Thom talked to Paul Hannam about his book, "The Magic of Groundhog Day" and how we can get out of the ruts we are in and become more happy.
Thom Hartmann interviews Paul Hannam, 01 February 2008
[Thom]: Paul Hannam is on the line. Paul is an old friend of the show, he's been on the program a couple of times. He's got a new book out, "The Magic of Groundhog Day". The web site, themagicofgroundhogday.com. Tomorrow of course Groundhog Day, although in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania they are celebrating it today, tomorrow and the day after, sort of like in the movie. Hey Paul.
[Hannam]: Hi, how are you doing Thom?
[Thom]: Just great. Great to have you with us. I should also say in your bio you started a company called Bright Green Talent here in the US, focussing on saving energy, promoting renewable energy, it's a talent agency. Also you own 50 percent of Greenest Host, an exciting Internet hosting and service business in San Diego running 100 percent solar-powered servers. But really this new book of yours, "The Magic of Groundhog Day", is about this movie, about how this movie affected you and how its a model and a metaphor for everything that's going on in so many of our lives, and certainly in our political and environmental world.
[Hannam]: That's absolutely right. I think the big idea I really wanted to write about is the fact that we're all stuck in Groundhog Day. We're stuck as individuals, organizations, and society. We're stuck in this crazy system thats really damaging our own wellbeing, each other's wellbeing and above all, the wellbeing of the planet. We're stuck in jobs we don't like, we're trapped in debt, and we're stuck in what I call a toxic lifestyle that's making us more and more unhappy and it's based on fossil fuels. So I would say it's Groundhog Day on planet Earth.
[Thom]: Yeah. So how do we break out of Groundhog Day in all those different areas that you talked about?
[Hannam]: Well, I think the first thing is in the movie, Phil changes, Phil Connors, the Bill Murray character, changes by first of all paying attention to what's going wrong. So much of what we do, we're living on automatic pilot. And I think the first step is to step out of automatic pilot and actually look at our lives, and say, 'is this making us happy?' For businesses say, 'well what's the point of making profit if we're damaging the environment?' and for governments to really pay attention to the effects of their policies. Once you start getting out of a rut and getting out of Groundhog Day you become aware of what's really happening in your life and then you can start to transform your life day by day. In the movie, Phil literally has to press the reset button every day. Every day's the same. He has to get up and find a way of living and being happy and finding meaning and I think that's the challenge for all of us. And in the book I show how a personal change can be allied to changing communities and changing the environment. It's all about breaking out of these ruts that keep us trapped.
[Thom]: We're talking with Paul Hannam, his new book, "The Magic of Groundhog Day". Paul, formerly, well still a successful entrepreneur, formerly a lecturer at Oxford University, a trainer, an author. This is his second book. And in fact, Danny Rubin, the guy who wrote the screenplay for the Magic of Groundhog Day and I think this is the 15th anniversary of it, has enthusiastically endorsed your book and he's out talking about it. How does Phil Connors' transformation bring about, how is it, you talk about how it's metaphor for how we can make transformations in our lives, and how important it is to push that reset button, how do you actually do it?
[Hannam]: Well, I think the first thing to realize about Groundhog Day is that what Phil goes through, his journey from really a life of self absorption, boredom, unhappiness to a life full of love and meaning, is actually born out not just by the great spiritual traditions, but it's actually supported by all the recent research, psychological research, is happiness, what makes us happy. What we really see at the movie is at the beginning Phil is, when he comes into the town, he's just looking to serve his own interests. He's only interested in his career, he's interested in celebrity, power and money. And even in the time loop, he's just manipulating people, seeking short term pleasure. But soon his old way, his old ego, completely runs out of steam and he becomes completely stuck. But he actually tries to kill himself again and again and again. And in a way his old self dies. Then this new self is born out and this new self is based on serving community, serving others, love, really finding meaning and purpose in his life. And that is the true path to happiness that's born out by all the recent research in psychology. And when we get that right as individuals, I believe we can then start to supply that to our governments, to our institutions, and to the planet.
[Thom]: Yeah. It's interesting. It's almost like we have been there ever since Reagan came in with his 'greed is good' mentality, and 'I' first, and the Milton Friedman Chicago School of economics notion that if we simply unleash greed, everything will be fine. And as you point out in your book, Paul Hannam, "The Magic of Groundhog Day", and your web site themagicofgroundhogday.com, and the pursuit of selfishness leads to tragedy more often than happiness.
[Hannam]: Yes it does, and it's tragic what happens in the movie. At one level it's a Bill Murray comedy, it's a charming romance. But at a far deeper level, and this was Danny Rubin's original idea, the screenwriter, is that this really deals with life stage development. Of how we move away from a focus on ourselves to focus on other people. And what's interesting is in the States, I mean since the 1960s, people may be earning more, but divorce rate's doubled, we're working longer hours, we're commuting further distances, violent crime rates quadrupled, prison populations quintupled, and where's it really got us, this myth that money, power, celebrity's going to make us happy? Yet still so much of the media in our society's based on this myth solution.
[Thom]: Well, it's a myth that certainly serves large transnational corporate interests.
[Thom]: The idea that we're consumers and not citizens, that we're consumers and not humans, that we're consumers and not fundamentally, you know, things like parents and friends and spiritual beings and, you know, fill in the blank. In your book you talk about in the book "The Magic of Groundhog Day", we're talking with Paul Hannam, about why Americans are unhappy compared to some very unlikely places; Mexico, Columbia, Iceland, they're all happier places than the US?
[Hannam]: Well this interesting because in the movie, Phil is trapped in Punxsutawney on one of the coldest days of the year. It's dark for a large part of the day; not a place where you would expect to be happy. And similarly, Iceland was voted the happiest place in the world to live. which is ironic.
[Thom]: And they've got a very gray climate throughout the winter because they're at such a high northern latitude.
[Thom]: I mean, it's, so why are they happy?
[Hannam]: Well, the reason they are happy, and this comes out in studies in many other countries, and I remember seeing a study of Malta which says the same thing, is that they have very close-knit community, very close knit families, strong bonds, very strong social policies. That's a very progressive society. And people are very active citizens. In a way I think the contrast is they see themselves as citizens of the Earth, not consumers of the Earth. But their focus is on the real genuine things that make us happy, which is the number of relationships. The best predictor of happiness is the more friends you have and there was research last year that said the average American male in their forties has two friends.
[Hannam]: Which I find disturbing.
[Thom]: Yeah, tragic actually.
[Hannam]: Yes, it is tragic.
[Thom]: In a very real way. I mean, we used to have, and even family, used to be family dinners every night, and now it's catch as catch can. I'm curious, Paul, what your thoughts are on pseudo relationships. It seems that there are so many kids in particular these days who are building community and building relationships with people that they never physically see. Is this a healthy or unhealthy surrogate for, you know, the normal friendship with the guy next door? In some ways I suppose you could argue it might even be more healthy because you're finding people who actually have more in common with you even though they might be on the other side of the planet and so you correspond with them, you know, via chat rooms or message boards or whatever. On the other hand, there's a lack of human contact. What are your thoughts on that dynamic?
[Hannam]: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, I think it's better to be part of a virtual community than no community at all, but what's interesting is, in Japan now there's a problem where nearly a million young men stay trapped in their bedrooms on the computer because they can't face the world outside. And I think if you live in a virtual world, you can develop one set of skills in terms of emails communicating online, but you lose so much else. And above all, what I think we've lost is what Robert Putnam in his, at heart in his book social, "Bowling Alone" calls 'bridging capital". It's when we build relationships with people we wouldn't normally meet. Instead of people at our economic level or who share our interests, we meet many members of the community, many people we wouldn't normally agree with their views. And I think that diversity is what we've really lost, and the Internet just really makes it a lot worse.
[Thom]: So it's a healthy think to have community and friendships and relationships and family, you know, with people with whom you disagree and you can learn from and grow and be stretched by.
Paul Hannam, the author of "The Magic of Groundhog Day". The web site is themagicofgroundhogday.com and Paul, I am proud to call you a friend. You and I have been friends for many, many years and I am so pleased that we have a friendship. Thanks so much for being with us.
[Hannam]: Thank you.
[Thom]: And let me recommend the book. It's an absolutely fabulous book. themagicofgroundhogday.com is the web site.