Last night, I watched the 1946 classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s 75 years old. And while there are certainly some oddities from a bygone era, the message of the movie hit me hard. I can now add it to the short list of movies that have made me cry – including Rudy, Marley & Me, and Hardball. I’m not embarrassed.
If you’re not familiar with the plot of the movie, it centers around the life of George Bailey. George lives a life of humble generosity. He’s born with all the talent in the world, and he may be the first person to leave his small town of Bedford Falls and make something of himself. He’s got a fire within him, but reality keeps pulling him back to his town – his father’s failing business, his younger brother’s hopes to leave town, and Mary – the girl of his dreams.
Everything he does is for the service of others. He never once does the selfish thing. In fact, he even saved a few people’s lives.
As a result, by the time he’s a full-grown man with a wife and children, he’s faced with the reality that he never pursued his true hopes and dreams; that all his potential is now just that: potential
He never left his hometown, never built world-changing skyscrapers, and never traveled across the world to make tons of money. Faced with the depressing reality, he reaches a breaking point. He hates his stupid house, his stupid family, and his stupid job. When he looks around, he sees everyone else happy and proud of their accomplishments, but while they were out in the world making a difference, he stayed loyal to his hometown.
Until a guardian angel shows up.
The guardian angel grants George his one wish — to see what life would be look if he never existed.
George suddenly sees how different life in his hometown would be if he were never born. Beautiful homes are boarded up, the quaint Main Street has turned into a vice town Sin City full of gambling, brothers, and crime, and the people whose lives he saved cease to exist.
It begins to sink in how good George has it.
Despite all his anguish and unfilled potential, when he stops and looks around, his life is nothing but wonderful.
Here was a man who only a short while ago, was considering taking his own life.
But with a single perspective change, George was able to turn his life around. It reminded me of one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings:
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
This quote has been echoed by so many great voices in history because it will always ring true. You don’t have the power to change other people – but you do have the power to change your attitude toward them.
It’s easy to watch a movie like this and feel good inside for a day or two, but in daily life, it’s not so simple to practice gratitude like George Bailey.
I once had a coworker who drove me nuts.
He talked to himself, sneezed, grunted, and made all sorts of noises throughout the day. I tried wearing noise-cancelling headphones, but I could still see him in the corner of my eye fidgeting about, begging for attention.
I hated it.
He probably had no idea it bothered me but silently I Iet him drive me mad.
Then one day I was reminded of my grandfather’s quote. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Right then and there I decided not to let him bother me. Rather than shake my head in anger, I began shaking my head in laughter. “Oh, desk guy. You’re too much!” All I did was trick my brain, but your brain is easily tricked.
That was when I realized a powerful insight, that Paulo Coelho once articulated elegantly:
Every day I have a choice to make:
I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adveturter in search of treasure. It’s all a question of how I view my life.
Make every effort not to change things you don’t like, but to change the way you look at them. What we look at is not nearly as important as how we look at it. Our perception of the world is what creates our life experience.