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How to Make Sure It’s a Wonderful Life

One of my family’s Christmas traditions is watching movies about this wondrous season of the year. It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and Elf are always good among the many choices. They remind us of our unique excellence and the value in learning to transcend ourselves and to bless others. They teach us how to find lasting happiness and joy. 

In It’s a Wonderful Life George Bailey appears to never get what he wants—whether it’s becoming a man of great education, finding acclaim, or amassing a fortune. He seems relegated to a simple life with a mundane job in an ordinary town. Yet, despite his supposed sense of dissatisfaction, he actively spends his whole life helping his community and putting others first. The movie portrays how George goes through the toughest of life’s problems and, ultimately, how he overcomes them.

What does it take to earn our wings?

One Christmas Eve as a financial error with outsized consequences adds to the weight of his life’s disappointments, George considers suicide.  An angel named Clarence who has yet to earn his “wings” comes from heaven and shows him how the world would have been if he hadn’t been born. George gets a first-hand look at the many important works he had done and how much worse the world would be without his deeds. Hanging in his office is a quote that expresses his life. “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” Or another, “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

When George first meets Clarence, he sees what appears to be a man drowning. He instinctively dives in to save him and, in the course of the movie, is himself saved by Clarence. Captured well in one of the lines, “You tried to save me and then I saved you!” As we give ourselves away for others, we find ourselves. Clarence continues, “Strange, isn’t It? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

No man is a failure who has friends

In the end Geoge’s friends pull together to supply the money needed to avoid the alleged scandal and bankruptcy of his Savings and Loan Bank. Clarence earns his guardian angel wings for his noble actions with George. Recalling again the truth that “No man is a failure who has friends.” 

One of the central truths in this movie is the concept of self-transcendence. This is what we have been exploring all of December, and this is the core of it: We find meaning and purpose in using our virtues, talents, and gifts to bless others.

I hope you have been able to enjoy the holiday season with greater insight into self and your future. Dr. Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning reminds us of that when he noted, “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.” 

As we look forward to the new year, what is it you look forward to? What is life yet expecting of you?  

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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