It’s a Wonderful Life

We have a holiday tradition in our family. Every Christmas Eve we watch the classic Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” No matter how many times I have seen it – I cry every time at the end when George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character, opens a book that is inscribed “no man is a failure who has friends.” The movie is about George Bailey a frustrated but compassionate businessman following in the footsteps of his father. He runs a small building and loan company, barely making a profit, but making it possible for his customers – his friends and neighbors – to get a home.

There’s a crisis in the film where George wants to end his life. An angel comes to him and shows him what it would have been like if he had never been born. That’s when George realizes how much his life has affected the lives of others and what a rich life he really has.

I think we all tend to forget how our lives affect the lives of others. In the things we say. In the things left unsaid. Often times we don’t even realize how we affect others because we are too narrowly focused on ourselves and only see our own perspective. Many times, our perspective might not be what’s really happening at all. The funny thing is that you never really know how your life has affected another’s unless they tell you – and most people don’t.

Every so often when I get frustrated by people’s actions, I remind myself that those very things that people do that make me feel bad or angry or sad – are the human imperfections that make life what it is. I remind myself that my imperfections and actions have an affect on others as well.

Every now and then, I’ll get an email or a Facebook message where somebody lets me know that I affected them in a positive way. It’s usually very something simple that I did or said, but it makes me feel good to hear that I made someone else’s life a little bit better.

Our world has changed a lot since Capra made this movie in 1946. A “friend” has taken on a different meaning – certainly a broader as we communicate globally with ease. But ultimately people are people with the basic human need of wanting to be loved and to know that someone cares about them. When we begin to understand that – it is what we do for others that brings the most rewards to our own life – then it really is a wonderful life.

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The Power of Nostalgia

I’m not one to “look back” much, but I watched a story today on the news magazine show Sunday Morning about nostalgia that got me thinking about the past. Apparently, according to the “experts” who were interviewed on the show, being nostalgic

Gang of friends. I'm on top step.

and looking back into our past isn’t such a bad thing for us to do.

But being nostalgic wasn’t always looked at as being “good” for us. In fact in the 17th and 18th centuries, nostalgia was considered a medical disease and as recent as the 20th century, it was classified as a psychiatric disorder.

Nowadays, many psychologists think it’s healthy for us to look back at our past and recognize that we have overcome hardships and setbacks in our lives and in doing so we gain the inner strength we need to move forward. With time comes perspective and with that comes a certain resolve.

Advertisers have capitalized on the power of nostalgia for years. They pitch and promote new products by connecting them to people’s fond memories of the past or how they perceive the past to have been. Pepperidge Farm commercials were intended to provoke memories of home baked goodies from our childhood and associate them with their products. Or as the fictional character Don Draper from Mad Men said when referring to the power of nostalgia “ It takes us to a place where we ache to go again – it’s delicate but profound”.

So as we close out another year and in fact the first decade of the new century, take a few moments to think about the past. I think most of us will realize that all the obstacles that seemed insurmountable at the time, ended up being necessary for all the other things to happen in our lives. Just like George Bailey in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” found out when he had been given a glimpse into how things would have been different had he never been born – he really did have a wonderful life. He just needed to look back and take notice.

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