Harold Ramis once said to Judd Apatow: “If anything is possible and I can do anything, then there’s a limitless capacity to do good.” If each of us has a limitless capacity to do good, why not use it?
2020 is almost behind us. Whether you would prefer to delete 2020 from your memory or to learn from it, this year will soon be over. It is time to open and to change.
I love Neil Morrison’s words from words from a few years back on our unique gift of change. They are just as relevant to today, and to the rest of your life:
“Look at the amazing power that we have as humans to change our circumstances and make things better. To innovate, to protect and preserve, to cure and solve and to recreate.”
Change can be large or tiny. Tiny changes can accumulate into profound alterations in your life, your outlook. Tiny changes can also ripple out into the world and transform the lives of others.
A move of deliberate optimism
Change can come from something as simple as that which enthuses you. Discovering something new. I love these words from Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl:
“I love being a new onlooker, a convert. To become a fan of something, to open and change, is a move of deliberate optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm.”
Deliberate optimism is something to cherish, to celebrate, to aspire to. It is a dangerous illusion to believe things were better in the good old days. Nostalgia creates an illusion of serenity.
Brownstein writes beautifully about the seductive allure of nostalgia:
“Nostalgia is so certain: the sense of familiarity it instils makes us feel like we know ourselves, like we’ve lived. Nostalgia is elating to bask in. Nostalgia is recall without the criticism of the present day, all the good parts, memory without the pain.”
To take the perfect route, the most human route
I keep coming back to Groundhog Day (which is only appropriate, when you think about it). Bill Murray’s character Phil Conners is seemingly condemned to repeat the same day over and over, without end. As I wrote in Time to drop the act:
“Conners breaks the cycle and is able at last to continue his life by deciding on one version of this life in a day to take the perfect route, the most human route, through each interaction that comes his way. Buddhists might see Conners at last liberating himself from Saṃsāra to achieve Nirvana.”
It seems I was pretty close to the mark here. Shortly after writing Time to drop the act, I read Judd Apatow’s excellent book Sick In The Head, which includes an interview with Harold Ramis, the dear departed creator and director of Groundhog Day.
Ramis’s personal belief system was a unique combination of existentialism and Buddhism. Groundhog Day was his purest artistic expression of these beliefs. According to Ramis:
“Serenity is an illusion, but if anything is possible and I can do anything, then there’s a limitless capacity to do good. That’s what Groundhog Day is about. In Groundhog Day, Bill destroys meaning for himself. Buddhism says our self doesn’t even exist. The self is a convenient illusion that gives us ego. […] If you can take yourself out of these existential issues, life gets a little simpler. If life is full of possibility, and I stop thinking about myself, I end up where Bill ends up at the end of the movie: in the service of others.”
The service we do for others
To end up in the service of others. By no means the worst end to which to aspire and for which to aim. I love Ramis’s take on the logical conclusion of this outlook on life:
“If life only has the meaning you bring to it, we have the opportunity to bring rich meaning to our lives by the service we do for others. It’s a positive thing.”
Openness to change can and should be a move of deliberate optimism.
Life is full of possibility.
Each of us has a limitless capacity to do good.
What will you do next?
* This is an updated and slightly spruced up version of a post that I originally published in January 2017. It seemed particularly timely to revisit this post at the tail end of what will have been for many a transformative year (whether for good or otherwise).