It’s a Wonderful Life

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There’s a familiar quip, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

We can laugh at this statement for its pure absurdity. We can also recognize our desire to glorify the past by making up stories around events even as we know the stories we tell ourselves fall short of capturing the whole truth.

Nostalgia is always on my mind at Christmastime. So much effort goes into family members traveling great distances to spend a few short days to sleep in their childhood bedroom or have a meal with their parents and siblings.

So much care goes into decorating the family tree with ornaments that, having their own stories, have been passed from one generation to the next.

I, personally, have watched the Capra classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV five times in two days. I know I’m not alone in this ritual.

What makes me do this? It’s not as if I don’t know the ending.

There seems to be a longing to return to a world that operates in familiar ways.

Of course, the underlying message of the film is not aimed at romanticizing the past. It’s aimed at reaffirming the value of each individual life, showing us how any person’s life affects other lives in ways that can’t always be understood. But it sort of pits the past against change.

There’s an ongoing tension between holding on to the past as an ideal or feeding dreams of exploring the unknown, the past being laden with the values of family and duty.

Throughout the story, George Bailey tries to break from the script that moves his life forward and fails — beautifully.

Instead of venturing to a south sea island or embarking on a life of building things, “big, important things,” he ends up running his father’s business and marrying the girl that had her eyes on him since before she would have worn a training bra had they been invented yet.

I might have a little different take on the final scene than most people. I have to invoke the words of Ram Das. “Be here now.”

I can’t say that the movie shows us that “it’s a wonderful life” because George chooses family as his foundation or helps Clarence earn his wings, or even because, after his strange time traveling adventure, he rediscovers Zuzu’s petals in his pocket.

At the end of the movie, George Bailey finds himself living fully in the moment. It’s not what he sees that matters, but rather that he sees how the things he loves and values are present in his life.

It’s not a wonderful life specifically because he has a family, or foiled Old Man Potter’s attempts to take over the town, or even because he saved his younger brother’s life when they were both children.

He loves being a father and husband, being a home town hero, and being of service — and can see how all these things are present in the moment.

You don’t need to have a family or sense of fulfilled duty in order to be happy – unless that’s what YOU, personally, value. Each person might want different things, but everyone can find joy when they train their mind to notice that what they value is already in their lives.

Knowing that you can see things that you can genuinely value and appreciate in the moment is no small thing.

Re-printed with permission.

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  • Deborah Hawkins

    Deborah Hawkins has been blogging on gratitude and mindfulness for over a decade, posting over 500 essays. In December of 2019, she brought out two books, The Best of No Small Thing — Mindful Meditations, a collection of favorite blogs, and Practice Gratitude: Transform Your Life — Making the Uplifting Experience of Gratitude Intentional, a workbook on her process. Through her books, classes, and coaching, she teaches people how to identify things to be grateful for in everyday experiences. New blogs are posted every week. Visit her website: Follow her on SM.,

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