As I talked about in my podcast on “work-life balance,” I very, very rarely watch movies and typically will only sit down to view a flick if it's been recommended to me at least half a dozen times and is “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes with a 90% score or higher. That's my general criteria at least, and based on that criteria, I wind up watching about three to four movies a year.
Anyways, I recently watched the Pixar movie Soul (it fit the criteria above), which is the story of a jazz pianist named Joe (voiced by the supremely talented Jamie Foxx) who has a near-death experience and gets stuck in the afterlife, subsequently contemplating his choices and regretting an existence that he mostly took for granted. I'll admit: I was initially a bit concerned that Soul could heavily conflict with my own personal, Christian views of the origin and destination of souls, the afterlife, near-death experiences, and how heaven and hell work; but ultimately—though it did indeed have several inaccuracies in that respect (read Randy Alcorn's book Heaven and my article on the afterlife for a more accurate perspective)—it did turn out to be a really, really good show that resulted in three meaningful takeaways I'll share with you in this article.
Oh, and should you not yet have seen Soul, I promise no major spoilers.
Three Important Life Lessons From Pixar's Movie, Soul
1. Stop & Smell The Roses
Often, we're encouraged to pursue our passions in life and, to be fully self-actualized, form our core purpose around those passions, which I discuss in my “How To Find Your Purpose” article and in my book Fit Soul.
You'll find that if you're implementing this advice, it can become quite easy to become so immersed in your work and in tackling your life's purpose, that you occasionally forget to slow down and mindfully enjoy the smaller things in life. For example, I can personally become completely immersed in and nearly obsessed with reading, writing, learning, and teaching—via activities such as working on articles, having podcast discussions with interesting people, consulting with clients, or reading and researching materials I'm fascinated with—that I fail to notice the majestic mountains just outside my office window, the flavor of the peppermint gum in my mouth, the aromas diffusing from the essential oil diffuser on my desktop, or the singsong of birds in my backyard.
In the movie, we see the character “22,” a new soul on planet Earth, experience a deep sense of joy and wonder from seemingly mundane activities such as eating a pepperoni pizza, listening to a musician in the subway, or seeing a child. We also see souls who are so obsessed with their work and so immersed in “The Zone” while caught up in their passion become transported to an entirely new dimension that puts them into an out-of-body experience, which seems great, but also largely disconnects them from the wonders of their day-to-day physical existence.
So yes, have a passion in life. But don't become so passionate and so caught up in an activity you enjoy that you forget to enjoy the small things in life. In other words, practice mindfulness. The little things are important too. We live on a magical planet chock-full of the wonders of God's creation, and it'd be a shame to let them slip by because you're so focused on and obsessed with creating maximum impact with your life. As I wrote about recently, living life to the fullest and experiencing what it truly means to be a human requires elegantly combining the doing with the being.
As with the other two important life lessons below, I'll include my favorite Bible verse on this matter…
Ecclesiastes 8:15: “And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.”
2. The Grass Is Always Greener
In one section of the movie, Joe lives his “dream moment” by experiencing the musical jazz performance of his life on stage. You'd think he would be absolutely over the moon and finally fulfilled by having checked that box. But as he wanders out of the nightclub, he turns to his companions and asks, “What now?” His saxophone-playing diva bandmate Dorothea Williams proceeds to tell Joe the story of a small fish swimming up to a bigger, older fish and asking where the ocean is. The fish elder explains that they are in the ocean. But the little fish replies, “No, this is just water, I want the ocean!”
So what's the moral of this tiny parable? In short, we often don’t realize the satisfaction and meaning that already surrounds us because we’re so caught up in trying to reach a destination or make it to the top of some Mount Everest we've painted in our heads as the perfect destination. We should perhaps stop and ponder whether, as we try to get out of the water to get into the ocean, we've actually already found and are immersed in the ocean.
For example, your quest for a job promotion may be sucking all the happiness out of your life because your current job may be exactly where you're supposed to be right now, and what you were meant to do. Your excess hard work for a better body may be wasting plenty of time you could instead be spending with friends, family, or engaged in other hobbies because your body is, well, just fine as it currently is. Your constant search for the perfect church, or social group, or team, or tribe may be blinding you to the fact that you're meant to bloom exactly where you've been planted, which is the field you're in right now. Perhaps you should consider that you've already made it, and the next best thing for you to do is to simply savor each moment of where you are with mindfulness, gratefulness, and enjoyment.
This shouldn't be used as an excuse to become passive and complacent in life, or to ditch the idea of constant improvement, but should instead be used as permission to become content with where you are right now, even if you have aspirations to become a better, more impactful person with each consecutive day. For more on being satisfied with seemingly mundane tasks you may do each day, rather than searching for the next big thing, read this article on finding satisfaction with daily chores of “chopping wood and carrying water” and also consider beginning a daily gratitude practice, which I teach you how to do here.
Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
3. Find Your Spark.
Part of the film involves the concept of a “Great Before,” where souls find their unique “spark” before venturing to Earth to be born as a baby and join the mortal coil. At first, as I was watching Soul, I thought, similar to Joe, that the special “spark” every soul was searching for was the same as their purpose in life. In other words, you must be fully self-actualized and working/living your dream job to experience true meaning and happiness as a human. But it turns out that really isn't the case. As one character named Jerry in the movie says,
“A spark isn't a soul's purpose! Oh, you mentors and your passions. Your purposes, your meanings-of-life. So basic.”
The lesson here is not quite to give up on, say, pursuing your dream job. The lesson is to let go of the idea that having a dream job in which you are fully self-actualized and immersed in a magical marrying of your work and your passion is the only path to happiness and fulfillment. Instead, your spark can be simple. Your spark can be strumming the guitar after a long day at the office. Your spark can be nightly family dinners and evening storytime with your children. Your spark can be cooking yourself a fantastic meal when you've returned from your daily routine of chopping wood and carrying water. Your spark doesn't have to contribute to society. It doesn't have to earn you money. It doesn't have to be molded and contextualized within the idea of a life's purpose.
This is helpful for me personally. It means I can whip out my guitar after a day of writing, researching, consulting, coaching, podcasting, and doing all those other purposeful activities and simply play the guitar because it brings me joy, because I love how the wood and strings feel against my fingers, and because I adore the sensation as every sound wave of a plucked string vibrates every cell in my body. I can sing and play not so that I can someday “make it” on YouTube or step on stage in front of throngs of adoring fans to play my next hit single, but rather because it simply makes me happy. It's my spark.
Every meal I cook doesn't have to be an Instagram sensation or take me one step closer to competitive network cooking show fame.
Every kettlebell I swing doesn't have to get me that much closer to kicking someone's ass in a kettlebell swing competition.
Every time I get dressed up to go out to a fancy dinner, it can be just for me and my enjoyment of God's creation—the colors, the fabrics against my skin, the scent of the fragrance I spray on my neck. It can be not to impress others or get noticed or strike the fancy of some businessperson who may want to do a deal with me because I'm dressed nicely, it can simply be for the pure sake of the action itself.
So sure, as I write about in detail here, you absolutely do need to have clearly identified and be pursuing your purpose in life, your “Ikigai,” your “Plan De Vida,” but you can also have enjoyments in life that are simply our personal spark. The purpose is the doing, and the spark is the being. If both overlap, then great. You're blessed. But if not, that's OK too. As Joe's mother tells him in the film “passion doesn't pay the bills.” I agree, or at least I agree that your passion doesn't have to pay the bills.
Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
So that's it. In summary:
- Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy the smaller things in life. Don't let the simple pleasures pass you by. God loves for us to be joyful as we enjoy his Creation.
- The grass is always going to be greener. Consider the fact that you may have already “made it” and now your job is to simply do the very best you can each day and savor God's blessings.
- Find your spark. Your spark doesn't have to be your life's purpose or something that is part of your career. It can simply involve engaging in activities that feed your soul and make you happy, even if they seem trite or don't “advance your career” in some way. Don't worry about doing so much: God will take care of you.
How about you?
Have you seen Soul?
What did you take away from it? Leave your questions, comments, thoughts, and feedback below, and if you have any other extremely worthwhile flicks that aren't a waste of time and that stand out from the usual waste-of-time fluff Hollywood seems to usually produce, let me know. You never know. I might watch one. :)