Movies that Move you: The Pursuit of Happyness

We all wish the best for our children and we all want them to feel proud of us. What our parents fail to provide for us, we feel that missing in our lives and we want to play wiser and better by making sure that we are able to provide for our clients. That is how Chris Gardner, the main protagonist of the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” felt. He met his father only when he turned 25 and he did not want the same thing to happen to his kid. As a devoting father, he promised himself that would be there for his kids, no matter what.

Unfortunately, he was not doing very well. He walked every day carrying a big printer with a target of selling at least two a month but failed to do so. He even failed to pay the taxes. Because of his incapacities to earn enough needed for a stress-free living, he was depressed and felt hopeless most times. His relationship with her wife was tattered.

This was something we all at some point in time in our lives have to go through. Despite trying our best, sometimes, nothing is enough and we just keep going with the least success. Frustration blooms in our heads and at times, we are so messed up that we end up exploding our relationships. The very relationships we want to secure, are blasted in the line of the fire of our own anger. And then we say that we are not to be blamed.

We come up with statements like –

‘The family should have understood how hard my life was’

‘It was not that I did not work, I did work and worked hard, and yet if the deck of fate is stacked against me, what can I do?’

‘If the family is unwilling to support me, what can I do?’

We think that we are suffering because of conditions that create obstacles for us in the way of making a good career or profession and as a result, we are unable to give enough to our family, who seems to be always dissatisfied. But the reality is that we are unhappy because we have higher expectations from us which we are unable to fulfill. It is not the family whose expectations trouble us more but our own expectations. And when we are unable to live up to our own expectations, we are unhappy with ourselves, with our jobs. It shows up on our faces and even at work. We lose focus and confidence.

Chris wanted to give better life to his kids which he was unable to give and that was the biggest reason for his unhappiness. Only that he did not know. He could see resistance from the family and the swirl of fate but never ever thought that anything could be wrong with him.

Life Brings Change that starts with Questions

Any change I life begins with the first step of realization that something needs to be changed. Chris was walking across the lane when he saw a guy stepping out of a luxurious car and he asked him straight, “What do you do and how do you do it?” and the reply was, “I am a stockbroker”.

Chris asked what he needed to study in college to be a stockbroker and the man replied, “You don’t need to go to college to become a stockbroker. All you need is to be good with numbers and understand people”. That was surprising but also hopeful.

Chris looked around in amazement and saw smiling faces all around. He asked himself –  why he could not smile the way they did? Why couldn’t he be happy? And that was where his real story started. How that simple realization and the aspiration for bringing a change put him on a roller coaster ride is what the movie has shown in action.

Sandwiched between Obstacles & Pushes  

Chris wanted to bring a change in life and take a step forward in a new direction but life doesn’t come easy for anyone. Especially, when we walk a new path, we face obstacles. These obstacles test our commitment and we either lose heart because of them and quit or we keep persevering. For every person, the challenges could be different but the pattern remains the same – you cannot bring a change in life without crossing the hurdles. For him, the obstacles were many starting from the disapproval of his idea of getting into stock borking from his wife Linda and pilferage of his printer by a hippie girl who he sought help from when going for an interview at a stockbroking firm for an internship.

But just as easily we face obstacles, we also get pushes from a life that tries to remind us that we are unhappy and need to make a change in life. Chris gets a reminder that he needed more money to put his kid into a better daycare. His son, Jaden, was watching unhealthy TV serials in the current daycare and no one from the caretakers was bothered. He was sandwiched between the obstacles that made him stop and pushes from the life that reminded him of how badly he needed a change.

Chris heads to the stockbroking firm but is again interrupted by the sight of the hippie girl who had stolen his machine. He ran to catch hold of her and got back his machine but in the process, lost his opportunity.

I saw this as a representative scene. He saw the machine, which represented his current life, as more important than the opportunity that was ahead of him. This was a test of his commitment towards his new goal in which he failed.

Another scene that I can recall from Devil wears Prada, in which Andrea, the main protagonist of the story, wanted to change her life as she was unhappy with her job. While walking down a lane with the thoughts of bringing a change in life, her phone rang. It was an important call from her devilishly strict boss, Miranda. The phone represented her current life. Had she not taken it, she could lose the job. On the other side, she was walking up to meet someone she really wanted to. She chose the opportunity over her current life and threw the phone in a fountain. This scene was near the climax and one to get the most applauds from the audience.


How many of us actually have the courage to do that?

When we realize in college that the stream that we chose is not really what we wanted, can we simply drop out of college even after knowing that the skill we were working on is in demand?

When we dream about getting into a business after doing a job for years, can we simply leave our job so we could focus on business?

Chris’s Desperate Attempt

Chris had applied for the internship which was hard to get in the midst of thousands of applications. While passing through the office area, he saw the boss, Brian Howe, and immediately wanted to impress him to push his chances to get ahead of the crowd and get the internship.  So, he tried talking to Brian.

Unfortunately, Brian was unwilling to talk for he was heading somewhere in a hurry and was about to catch a cab. Chris asked him where he was heading and to grab the opportunity to talk with him, lied that he was also going in the same direction, and got into the cab. He tried speaking about his achievements but upon seeing no interest from Brian, he felt discouraged. At this point, he had a choice to keep quiet or try harder. He chose the latter.

Brian was playing with a rubric cube and looked frustrated because he was unable to finish the puzzle. Chris remembered his own experience with the puzzle. The last time he had tried, he too failed. Chris said, “I can do it” and saw a surprise in Brian’s space. He could not believe that Chris could do it if he himself could not. He gave the puzzle to Chris and waited for him to finish it. While last time he failed because he was just playing a puzzle, this time, his internship was at stake and he had to do it. By the sheer will of his ambition and a stroke of luck, Chris was able to finish the puzzle and the boss was impressed. Luck favors those who try harder.

And from this scene, I could draw a few lessons again –

  1. When you have something big at stake, you can make things possible as your capacities expand with your laser-like focus
  2. If a standard way doesn’t work, you always have another way, perhaps riskier but a way you should try to get hold of an opportunity

But this was not where the scene ended. There was more to it. Chris did not have enough money to pay the taxi driver so he ran from him along with his big printer.  While he followed the same strategy as the hippie girl and succeeded in getting inside the train, he was not so lucky as she was, and ended up losing his printer.

Chris was forced to make a choice between his future life and current life. The loss of the printer was a reminder that he could not get a new life unless he let go of the old possessions and attachments.

Here, I saw a pattern, something visible in all our lives – When a big change could happen, we get obstacles, reminders, and lessons. Obstacles are there to test our perseverance. Reminders push us forward towards our change goal. Lessons tell us where we are going wrong which is why we are unable to achieve the goals we desire in life.        

So close to losing everything

In his pursuit of happiness, Chris was unaware of how close he was to losing everything. Just when he was trying to accept the fact that happiness was not for him, the confirmation came with a blow when his wife left him. A man already frustrated and wanting to leave his old life was again given a chance to actually leave it. While on one side, he was getting the chance to leave his old life, on the other side, he also got a call from Brian who wanted to speak to him about the internship.

That was the knock of the opportunity which he could only take if he let his old life go. So, instead of trying to save his marriage, he ended up asking his wife to leave.  He had high hopes of getting into a stockbroking firm but his problems were not over. He also got an ultimatum from his owner to leave the house in a week as he was unable to pay the rent. And immediately after he dealt with the rent issue, he got the police knocking on his door. He had to not just pay for the parking ticket and also spend the night in jail.

A lesson is drawn: Often in life, when we see a problem so complicated that we cannot see the solution so, instead of getting down to solving it, we try to avoid it. By avoiding a problem, it doesn’t just go away and instead we give it the opportunity to grow big and that is what happened with Chris in the movie. Now, he did not have just one problem of selling the printers but was now spiraled with more…

  • He had to take care of his son, he had to spend the night in the jail
  • He had to appear for the interview the next morning
  • He had to deal with the rent issue so he doesn’t get thrown out of the house
  • He also had to deal with his wife who had left him but now he needed her for the kid while he was in jail.

Something similar happens to us – When we avoid problems and then they start growing and before we realize what is happening, we are drenched in the mud.

Chase for the New Life

The next morning for Chris was a race for the chase of his new life. As soon she got out of jail, he ran like crazy to get to the job interview without realizing that he was all dirty with paint. Last night, he was painting the walls while the police caught him and did not get time to change. He stood before four well-dressed panelists in his half-open T-shirt and the speckled with white paint.

Chris told them his story to explain but they did not look very happy. One of the interviewers asked him, “What would you think if a man walked into my office without a T-shirt and I hired him”.

And Chris said, “He must have worn very nice pants”. The panelist liked his natural humor and looked happy but was this little trick going to get him the job?

The next day, he gets a call from Brian but at a very unfortunate time. The internship did not pay and he did not have money. The pack of problems was huge enough for him to let go of this opportunity but if he did, he would also lose terms with the man who helped him get through. A lot was at stake on both sides. And if he had to take up the opportunity, he was left with the only option to let go of his child because that was only when he could be free to pursue the new opportunity. But his child was the only source of happiness for him in the midst of all the things that were going wrong. How could he leave the only hope he had in his life?

It looked impossible for him to hold on to both – his kid and the opportunity, and yet he took the risk and accepted the offer.

It is your choice to listen or not

On a Saturday night, Chris took his kid to play basketball. The kid struggled to make a goal. Chris told him that he would not be able to do it because his father could not do it. The boy became upset and let go of the ball. Chris realized that he was doing the same thing to his kid as his wife did to him by discouraging him.

So, next, came the legendary dialogue from a father to his son, Don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot do it”.

And that is exactly where all our lives are hanging. It is that one thing that differentiates the successful from others. The world keeps telling you that you cannot do it and would not leave any chance to criticize you. It is up to you to make a choice to listen to them or not.

This was a mindset transformation that happened in the guy and that was the start of the change of his life too. What happens next is what you can find out by watching the movie. My insights or summaries are no replacement for the magic that this movie creates. It will make you feel, cry, and even jump with joy. It will move you.

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