Saturday, June 30, 2007

There is no I in Happyness

Finally, we got to watch the Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith and his real son, Jaden, who also plays his son in the movie. [Note that the y in Happyness is not a wrong spelling, but the actual title used. More on the title, or our take of it, later]. It's a pre-viewed DVD that we bought from BlockBuster, at a discounted rate.

The movie is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, who struggled to make ends meet earlier on, resulting in the estrangement of his wife who decided to move from SF to NY to work there. While I do not subscribe to what amouts to a wife abandoning his husband in his greatest time of needs, instead of enduring together through thick and thin that life throws at them as their marriage vows go, I certainly can understand her disillusionment, after being let down so many times. But this movie is not about Gardner's wife, it's about how he turns his dire circumstances around through true grit: perseverance and never give-up attitude.

Despite his arduous journey through life, he never deviates from the path of moral uprightness, never consigning himself to a doomed life of crime, to delirium, to escapades from reality that "down" people are wont to taking substances to numb themselves, driven to become "out" people in the process.

And his messages to his son are clear too: never let anybody tell him that he can't do something, not even his dad; and never even think that Mom left because of him (son), but rather Mom left because of Mom.

The movie also highlights how an affable personality will evoke the best response from others. Gardner always sounded cheerful and grateful even when a cold call turns out to be a rejection. But he also never pushes the issue, respecting the negative responses of the day with grace, believing that he could always come back another day. The moral of the story is not to make any enemy out of any relationship, even a business one. So often people just turn nasty when a deal falls through, thinking that that would be the last they see each other, foolishing burning the bridges that they might need to cross in the future.

I believe the movie has many lessons for those in the telemarketing business, even though I'm not a fan myself. Finesse, courtesy, and poise in the face of potential rejection. Warmth and eagerness to help. All make for a lasting social networking milieu where inter-personal skills reign supreme.

The movie also shows a human side of Gardner, succumbing to expediency, like the time he ran away from the cab driver when the guy he shares the cab with forgot (purposely?) to pay his share after the guy alighted from the cab first.

Coming back to the different spelling, Gardner actually pointed out the erroneous spelling as it appeared on the graffiti outside the childcare center in Chinatown that he sent his son to, with a y instead of an i in Happyness. In the movie, Gardner agonized over the use of the term pursuit in the Declaration of Independence: the unalienable rights of men to life, liberty, and happiness. To him, there is a subtlety implied in the use of "pursuit": happiness is not a right, but we do have the right to pursue it.

Anyway, back to my take of Happyness. Consistent with the teaching of Buddha, I think that word as spelled has a much greater connotation: that there is no "I" in happyness, as happyness will only ensue if we give to others. As Gardner asserts, he wants his son to know his father. And that motivates Gardner to push his son's needs above his own (granted this is a much narrower sense of no "I") and that he finds happyness in the process.

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