Jan 02

“Bridget Jones” and New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are the cornerstone of both the 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding and its screenplay adaptation of 2001. Bridget Jones (played by Renee Zellweger in the film) starts off her year with good intentions toward making significant life changes–and a diary to keep track of it all.

The bestselling book by Fielding was based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the author has acknowledged. Primed by the novel, many flocked to see the movie when it came out several years later.

Stephen Holden (New York Times) describes the film’s lead: “Bridget Jones, in case you didn’t know, is a 32-year-old bachelorette who works in a London publishing house and frets with sad amusement about her increasingly iffy prospects for finding a long-term relationship. Summoning up her shaky willpower, she decides to adopt the usual self-improvement regimen to make herself more desirable. She will lose 20 pounds, cut down on alcohol, cigarettes and sweets, and land the boat of her dreams. Her diary entries are prefaced with meticulous records of her progress (and lack thereof) in achieving her stringent numerical goals.”

One of Bridget’s best features? States Holden: “…(E)ven when downhearted, she maintains a rueful sense of humor.”

(Incidentally, when my screenplay Minding Therapy won the Hollywood Script award in 2009, they called it “hip and relevant, with a Bridget Jones’s Diary kind of flavor.”)

Below is the film’s trailer:

In the end, although Bridget feels compelled to admit that she hasn’t made the changes she’d wanted and that her diary is “foolish,” there is a significant measure of progress–albeit against her own inclinations–in one specific area. She’s managed to stumble into a decent relationship.

And it’s this special man, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who says the key words to Bridget that might make all those earnest resolutions seem not so important after all: “…I like you very much. Just as you are.”

How does the film feel today, over 20 years later? As would be expected, there’s some obvious datedness. One notable dynamic that Bridget encounters at work with her boss (Hugh Grant), for instance, would now be a #MeToo problem, Rebecca Nicholson (The Guardian) points out.

Other issues of note are the fat phobia that pervades as well as what we could call singlehood phobia. But even if we’re somewhat smarter about these issues decades later, don’t they remain relevant? Don’t women in today’s world still appreciate Bridget’s struggles?

Indeed, at the 20-year anniversary of the film, Jenny Singer, Glamour, concluded it’s “perfect, just the way it is.”

Dec 27

“Dry January” Versus “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace

Dry January can be extremely positive or can actually reinforce the stronghold alcohol has on someone. Here’s why. When we give up something we feel is benefiting us, we feel deprived. While you might be able to get through the 31 days of January without drinking, there is a good chance that…you have actually created more of a desire for it. As soon as we tell ourselves we can’t have something we tend to want it even more. Annie Grace to Jess Cording, Forbes

If you’re concerned about your drinking and not sure about Dry January as a strategy, consider Annie Grace‘s book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life. Grace has not only successfully worked on changing her own alcohol use but has also helped many individuals in similar circumstances.

Notably, Grace’s strategies are not for those who may be physically dependent on alcohol,  which can require a different kind of detox under a professional’s care. From Grace’s website: “It is strongly recommended that you seek professional advice regarding your health before attempting to incorporate any advice…Withdrawal symptoms due to a physical dependence on alcohol have the potential to be severe, and in some cases life-threatening.”

If you’re dealing with psychological dependence, though, Grace declares, “I can put you back in control by removing your desire to drink, but be forewarned, getting rid of your desire for alcohol is the easy part. The hard part is going against groupthink, the herd mentality of our alcohol-saturated culture. After all, alcohol is the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.”

Want to broaden your horizons? Consider reading her blog or listening to her podcast. Join her support community. Or all of the above.

Instead of Dry January, try her 30-day Alcohol Experiment. Click on this link if the following five possible benefits, per Grace, interest you:

  1. clarity and focus
  2. your time becomes freed up
  3. better health and sleep, increased libido, reduced anxiety, no hangovers, etc.
  4. whereas failing is not possible, learning is inevitable
  5. mindful relationship with alcohol

Selected Quotes from This Naked Mind

Let me ask you, from a purely physiological perspective, how could alcohol possibly make you happy? The effect of alcohol is to deaden all of your senses, to numb you, to inebriate you. If you are numb, how can you feel anything, happiness included?

We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

Ask yourself if you are happier than before. Ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life dumber, with your senses deadened, experiencing tunnel vision, and unable to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

The problem with alcohol is that once you start drinking you can’t judge the point where a little is good and a lot becomes a disaster. When you are making a fool of yourself, or when your conversation skills wane, you remain unaware. Even if you could gauge the exact amount to drink, booze doesn’t make you cleverer, funnier, more creative, or more interesting. There is nothing inherent in alcohol that can do this. 

But when you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink. This is the mystery of spontaneous sobriety…

Dec 20

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Past and Present Views of the Film

Is It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), with one of its themes suicidality, really worth seeing again and again? It was panned from some of the major film critics of its time and bombed at the box office, yet it’s still going strong on our TV sets.

The Plot

As summarized by the late Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, It’s a Wonderful Life “works like a strong and fundamental fable, sort of a ‘Christmas Carol’ in reverse: Instead of a mean old man being shown scenes of happiness, we have a hero who plunges into despair.”

The hero, of course, is George Bailey (James Stewart), a man who never quite makes it out of his quiet birthplace of Bedford Falls. As a young man he dreams of shaking the dust from his shoes and traveling to far-off lands, but one thing and then another keeps him at home — especially his responsibility to the family savings and loan association, which is the only thing standing between Bedford Falls and the greed of Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), the avaricious local banker.
George marries his high school sweetheart… settles down to raise a family, and helps half the poor folks in town buy homes where they can raise their own. Then, when George’s absentminded uncle (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces some bank funds during the Christmas season, it looks as if the evil Potter will have his way after all. George loses hope and turns mean… He despairs, and is standing on a bridge contemplating suicide when an Angel 2nd Class named Clarence (Henry Travers) saves him and shows him what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him.

In the Unlikely Event You’ve Never Seen the Movie, Here’s a Trailer:

Some Modern Views About the Film

Ben Walters, Time Out“…the only Yuletide favourite to pivot around an attempted suicide.”

Gina Barreca, Psychology Today, notes that Bailey “realizes with misery and terror” that his wife (Donna Reed) would be single–and a librarian–had he never been born. “He concludes, therefore, that his life was meaningful, if only because he saved people from death, ruin, and the sheer misery of a single woman who is perpetually in circulation.”

George Michelsen Foy, Psychology Today, states that It’s a Wonderful LIfe “…was suspected by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of constituting ‘communist’ propaganda—though it was subsequently cleared. The movie reflects its time in other ways as well. The only African-American character in Capra’s film is a maid; women are mostly subservient housewives; the economic ideal it strives for is some kind of amorphous, semi-Christian charity.”

Some of the Film’s Themes and Messages

Rich Cohen, Salon, calls it “the most terrifying movie ever” and describes the gist of the movie as “the good man driven insane.”

George Michelson Foy, Psychology Today, admits that although he rewatches it regularly, he has to ask himself: “How can I be moved by a film that, in my view, so grievously misrepresents the truth?…In the film, George Bailey saves his bank and the town. In the real world, I would argue, Potter is winning.” 

Stanton Peele, Psychology Today, points out that what Clarence’s refocusing does to save George is what cognitive behavioral therapy can do for the rest of us.

…George returns home with a new appreciation for the small things around him – even the disappointments and stressors – as well as for his loved ones. This is the kind of awakening people often report after they nearly die. If only we could help depressed people crystalize such realizations without having them face death, then we’d have a therapy!
And we do. CBT helps people to learn these cognitive lessons so that they can create for themselves the same magic that Clarence performed for George. And Clarence’s demonstration of CBT is why ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ has stayed with us for what seems like, well, an eternity.

Dec 14

Helper’s High: Doing Good Feels Good

Helper’s High: Doing Good Feels Good

If you do good acts are you doing it for others? If not, why do it? Here’s a reason: not only is it good for the helpees, it’s also good for you. You could actually catch a “helper’s high,” a concept reportedly first conceptualized in the 1980’s.

Definition of Helper’s High

“’Helper’s high’ is the name given to that feeling of well-being that follows an opportunity to extend an act of kindnessdonate money to a charitable cause, or volunteer in a meaningful setting. After volunteering, have you ever found yourself thinking, ‘Wow, I got more out of that than I gave!’ That feeling is one version of the helper’s high. It’s part of human evolution. When we help or protect others, we contribute to keeping the human species alive” (RealizedWorth.com).

Sarah Kristenson, at HappierHuman.com, lists “nine reasons why helping others makes us happy.” These are listed below along with excerpts from her explanations. See the link for further details.

  1. Kindness Toward Others Releases Endorphins. (“Think of it as your body’s natural morphine.”)
  2. Releases the Love Hormone, i.e., Oxytocin. (“When you do good for others, you’re increasing your oxytocin, which means your trust in others will strengthen. As a result, more oxytocin means you experience more positive relationships, which makes you happy.”)
  3. Produces a Calming Effect via Serotonin. (“Normal levels of serotonin mean lowered levels of anxiety, which leads to calmness.”)
  4. Reduces Stress by lowering Cortisol. (“Therefore, acting out of kindness toward others reduces stress. Less stress leads to happiness.”)
  5. Improved Immune System Function. (“Because being charitable reduces stress, you can conclude that it also promotes a healthy immune system.”)
  6. Better Health. (“All of these previous reasons add up to one further conclusion–better health, both physically and mentally.”)
  7. Live Longer. (“With better health and less stress comes a longer life.”)
  8. Feeling of Satisfaction. (“As with the feeling of well-being, this feeling of satisfaction is also a chemical response. When you help someone, dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is another hormone that helps with mood evaluation.”)
  9. Change in Perspective. (“Ultimately, improved health and happiness causes a change in your perspective. You begin to look at the world more positively.”)

As Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. (Psychology Today) points out, however, “Not everyone benefits from altruism. For example, for those who are already feeling overwhelmed by having too many things on their plate, adding more—even if the intentions are positive—is not likely to end well. This is particularly true for those individuals who have problems with time management.”

Moderation and balance are advised lest helpers don’t take on too much and therefore experience burnout or compassion fatigue

On Giving Money As a Way of Offering Help

Michael Norton notes that spending money on others’ behalf is a way that some can feel helper’s high. He believes money can actually buy happiness—when you buy for oneself, yes, but even more when you fork it over for others. “Spending on other people has a bigger return for you than spending on yourself.”

Check out his TED Talk.

Dec 07

“Love Actually”: Holiday Favorite Back in Theaters

Love Actually is irresistible. You’d have to be Ebenezer Scrooge not to walk out smiling. Claudia Puig, IFC Center

And now, 20 years later, you have the opportunity to leave your couch-based streaming and return to a theater to see the better-sounding, better-looking re-issue—and walk out smiling. It includes a 10-minute pre-show consisting of interviews and various tidbits about the film’s creation.

Surprisingly, when Love Actually initially entered theaters in 2003 it received a lot of negative reviews. That didn’t stop it, though, from becoming an enduring favorite.

If it’s not something you’ve seen already, perhaps you’ve seen the often parodied “cue card” scene. One example (from SNL) followed Hillary Clinton‘s presidential election loss to you know who. It’s called “Hillary Actually” and stars Kate McKinnon—and still today rings bitterly sweet, funny, and relevant:

The actual movie scene spoofed above involves Mark (Andrew Lincoln) coming to the home of the wife (Keira Knightley) of his best friend and has been called “the stalker scene” by some viewers. Writer/director Richard Curtis now sees how problematic it is (The Independent).

“He actually turns up, to his best friend’s house, to say to his best friend’s wife, on the off chance that she answers the door, ‘I love you,'” Curtis said. “think it’s a bit weird. I mean, I remember being taken by surprise about seven years ago, I was going to be interviewed by somebody and they said, ‘Of course, we’re mainly interested in the stalker scene,’ and I said, ‘What scene is that?’ And then I was, like, educated in it.'”

More Info for Those Who Haven’t Seen Love Actually

Set mostly in London in the five weeks leading up to Christmas, Love Actually features a bunch of interconnected stories with a theme of—you guessed it—love, actually. And there’s an old song by The Troggs that figures prominently, “Love Is All Around,” that one main character, a recording artist, adapts for the holiday.

Many big names, including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman, star in Love Actually. In addition to the misgivings about the cue-card scene, Curtis has also recently stated: “The lack of diversity makes me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid” (USA Today, 2022).

Additional info regarding the film’s dynamics and flaws from a recent review by Francesca Carington, The Guardian: “Many of the plots reward underdogs, which is cheering; the majority of them foreground a male perspective, which is not…(M)any of the things people object to now were raised by critics in 2003. Too hetero, too many fat jokes, too many relationships between a man and his female subordinate, too American, too cloying, too many plotlines. It’s unlikely the opening reference to 9/11 in support of Curtis’s manifesto that ‘love, actually, is all around’ went down much better 20 years ago than it does now, either.”

Love is actually all around, however, and this is an appealing feature. “The multistranded-ness of the film contributes, in part, to its longevity. While the saddest subplots – those with Thompson and Linney, crestfallen, open-hearted and magnificent – are indisputably the best, the portrayal of the many configurations of love rewards repeat viewing.”

Roger EbertChicago Sun-Times: “The movie’s only flaw is also a virtue: It’s jammed with characters, stories, warmth and laughs, until at times Curtis seems to be working from a checklist of obligatory movie love situations and doesn’t want to leave anything out.”