A Happy Groundhog Day

Would it be a curse or a blessing if you endlessly relived the same day?

Phil Connors, portrayed by Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day, had that opportunity. He woke every day in the same place on the same day surrounded by the same people. “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!” He could not escape to tomorrow—it was eternally today.

Initially Phil was shocked. He confided in his colleague, Rita. He went to a doctor (played by the late Harold Ramis, director of the movie). The doctor sent Phil to a psychologist. But he still woke with  yesterday, today, and tomorrow the same day.

Phil then consulted two intoxicated locals at a bowling alley:

“What if there is no tomorrow?” he asked his bar-side therapists.

“No tomorrow?!” one responded, “That would mean there would be no consequences…We could do whatever we wanted!”

Phil took the idea to heart. He started a consequence-free life. “I’m not going to live by the rules anymore!” No longer filled with anxiety about his perpetual Groundhog day, he embraced his situation. He lept into satisfying carnal desires. Gluttony? What’s a table full of every pastry washed down with a pot of coffee while enjoying a cigarette when there are no consequences? “I don’t worry about anything anymore,” he quipped to Rita who gazed in disgust. Sexual conquests? He leveraged knowledge gained in his Groundhog Days to con a woman into bed. Greed? He learned the exact moment he could steal a bag of cash from a bank truck, and took it.  His ill-gained cash we can confidently assume was used to pursue an array of carnal gratifications.

Phil eventually set his desires on Rita. It seemed she was the last thing to conquer in his eternal day.

“If you had one day to live, what would you do with it?” he asked Rita. Phil pried his way into her mind and world to learn what she liked and valued, what her view of a good man and a good life was.  By doing so Phil inadvertently exposed himself to good things. He had to woo her according to what she valued so he learned French and studied poetry. He began doing and learning good things in order to achieve a bad goal.

But it was a futile effort. Phil’s conquest of Rita failed. And with his failure Phil was depleted. There was nothing left. The knowledge he accumulated was now worthless and offered no solace for his carnal mind. He knew every answer for Jeopardy, but there was no joy in the knowledge itself.  He experienced the emptiness of a self-centered life with no pleasures left to fulfill.  His descent was complete.

So he killed himself. Many times. And he kept waking up to Groundhog Day.

He then confided in Rita for a second time. After proving to her his condition, she pointed Phil to what must have been his first new thought in thousands of days: “Maybe it’s not a curse. It depends on how you look at it.”

There was nothing left to do but be happy.

That day spent with Rita marked Phil’s turning point. Across the table from her at the diner—“You’re a sucker for French poetry and You’re very generous.  You’re kind to strangers and children.”—and that night while she dozed to sleep—“I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone whose nicer than you. ..I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you the rest of my life.”—he saw a connection between her goodness and her happiness.  He still desired Rita, this time for who she was.

The next morning Phil woke renewed. After he peered at Groundhog Day through the window he glanced back at the bed where he realized so much talking with Rita, then glanced at the door  On the other side  another Groundhog Day waited. And out the door he went, with purpose.

He discarded his self-centered attitude. He began to live outside himself. The biting, caustic, miserable cur we watched from the beginning became caring, thoughtful, and empathetic. He looked for ways to serve others and their needs. He cared for the vagrant he used to shun. He took an interest in his colleague’s lives, the same people he used to barely tolerate. He studied the arts and pursued knowledge for its own sake, not to lure Rita into bed. (Bill Murray’s face of contentment over a stack of books, in solitude, while listening to music in the café is fantastic.) He took piano lessons. He recited poetry to strangers. He relished the opportunity to live among, serve, and learn from the locals, a complete reversal of his earlier aversion to spending one unnecessary moment with those “hicks.”  Phil savored and reflected the beautiful in life.

And he experienced happiness.

In the waning hours of what would be his final Groundhog Day, he whispered to Rita: “No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.”

Now. This moment. It is what humans are tragically wired to consider last, if at all, after obsessing about the past and unduly worrying about the future. In his now, his Groundhog Day, Phil experienced happiness.

So. Have a good day.