I recently watched the movie Soul, and it was really insightful and enjoyable. If you haven't watched it yet, I would definitely recommend it. Here is the trailer:
In this article, I'll summarize the story (spoiler alert) and then share my learnings.
The story's main character is Joe Gardner, who works as a part-time middle school music teacher in New York, but his dream is to be a professional jazz pianist.
One day, he gets an opportunity to audition, and he secured a show that night. It's a dream come true for him. As he leaves the audition and heads home, he accidentally falls into a manhole and dies.
His soul arrives in the afterworld, also called "The Great Beyond", but he refuses to die because he wants to play the jazz show later that night. He manages to escape to a place called "The Great Before", where new souls are prepared for life on Earth. Each soul is assigned to a "mentor", which is a senior soul who helps them to find a "spark" or passion in life.
Joe is mistaken as a mentor, and he is assigned to a soul named 22. 22 is very stubborn and doesn't want to go to Earth because she thinks human life is meaningless. In order for her to go to Earth, she needs to complete her Earth badge, which requires her to find a spark. Joe is determined to help her find a spark so that he can take her Earth badge and return to Earth. Unfortunately, his efforts yield no results.
22 thinks Joe's life is pitiful and is curious why Joe would want to return to Earth, so she takes Joe to find her friend Moonwind in a place called "The Zone". This is a place where souls enter when they enter flow state from activities such as music, writing, art, etc. It is also a place where "lost souls" dwell. These lost souls look and behave like monsters, and they are a result of obsessions, such as towards money or video games.
When they find Moonwind, he is able to help Joe locate his body. Joe is excited and tries to jump back into his body, but he accidentally brings 22 with him. When he wakes up, he finds out that 22 is in his body, and he is in the body of a therapy cat.
He remembers that Moonwind's physical body is also in New York, so they go and find him. Moonwind said he can return him to his body in the evening before his jazz show.
During the day, he gets 22 to prepare his body for the jazz show, such as getting a haircut and fixing his suit. Throughout the process, 22 starts experiencing human life and developing interest in things like food, wind, music, and people. At the end of the day, they visit Moonwind. But 22 refuses to leave Joe's body after discovering the joy of living and runs away. Shortly after, an officer from The Great Beyond came to Earth and brought Joe and 22 back to The Great Before.
22 discovers that her Earth badge is complete and is excited. However, Joe negates her and says she doesn't have a passion of her own, she only liked those foods and music because she was in Joe's body, and those are Joe's preferences. 22 gets angry, throws her Earth badge at Joe, and runs away. Joe then takes the Earth badge and returns to his body on Earth. He plays in the show that night at the jazz club, and it is everything he ever dreamed of.
However, after the show, he felt confused. He didn't feel much different from before the show. It didn't give him a long-lasting sense of fulfillment like he imagined. He recalls the experiences that 22 had in his body earlier that day, and he realized that these small experiences indeed gave 22 her spark, which is a desire to live.
He then plays piano and enters The Zone. He finds Moonwind and looks for 22, only to discover that 22 has become a monster due to her obsession with the idea that she can never find a spark.
Joe remembers that 22 was fascinated by a sycamore, and he saves her by giving her that sycamore. He then encourages 22 to go to Earth. Afterwards, he is ready to go to The Great Beyond, but an officer from The Great Before offers Joe another chance at life as a way to thank him for helping 22. Joe accepts and vows to live the rest of his life fully.
Lesson 1: Real happiness is decided by our attitude, not by external circumstances
Joe always thought he'd be happy after he attained his dream of being a professional jazz pianist. But after he got it, he didn't feel much different. This is such an important lesson. We can only get temporary stimulation from external things. External things cannot give us lasting happiness.
Later, Joe died and got a second chance at life. This time, his attitude towards life is different. Everything is a gift to him.
He still lives the same mundane life, but he will cherish and enjoy every little moment. He will have long-lasting happiness due to a change in his attitude. We may not have died and come back to life like Joe, but we can certainly do this kind of thought exercise. It will help us cherish every moment and live fully.
Lesson 2: Death isn't only for the old. Don't waste time.
Joe wasn't old when he died. Most of us think we still have a long time away until death, but there's no guarantee for that. Stoicism teaches us to remember mortality, that we could leave this life at any moment. This isn't meant to be depressing, but rather motivating. When we realize that tomorrow isn't guaranteed, we stop taking life for granted and start living fully. Whatever dreams we have, we need to chase it now, not later.
As for our loved ones and relationships, if we knew we would die tomorrow, how would we behave today? We would probably tell them, "Sorry for any pain I've caused you before. I want you to know that I love you, and I'm grateful for you, and I hope we can end with happy memories." The thing is, even if we don't die tomorrow, we can tell them these words anyway! It is a great way to mend and build relationships.
Lesson 3: Let go of obsessions.
I really liked the way the movie portrayed people with obsessions as monsters. Indeed, when people get obsessed or addicted to something, it's like they don't have a soul. All they can think about is their obsession, and they cannot feel other people's feelings. They end up hurting themselves and others.
In order to prevent addiction and obsessions, we should practice virtues such as kindness and discipline. When we are kind, we are considerate of other people's feelings. Our parents and loved ones would worry if we have an obsession, and a kind person wouldn't want loved ones to worry about them. When we have discipline, we are able to say no to bad influences and prevent them from developing into addictions.
Lesson 4: The art of giving advice
We've probably all met rebellious people like 22. Although many people might blame 22 for being rebellious, we should see that she is only rebellious because nobody treated her with love and patience. All her previous mentors lectured her rather than try to understand her. When she wasn't able to find a spark, they then started to criticize her, which only hurt her confidence even more. We should all reflect on ourselves to see if we treat others in a similar way. If so, we should apologize and improve ourselves.
If we want to be effective at advising others, we need to do so with a loving heart, not one of arrogance or judgment. We should first listen to them patiently and fully understand their feelings and situation. We can try to relate to their experiences to build trust. Once they feel like we truly understand them, they will be willing to listen to our advice.
When we give advice, we should be humble and not sound like we are lecturing them, or that they would be stupid if they don't listen to our advice. We should have an encouraging attitude, with the goal to help them flourish. Then we will naturally have a smile on our face and a warm tone of voice. If 22 had encountered this kind of mentor, she wouldn't be so rebellious. The world has enough negative people already. If we can be a source of positive energy for others, then we are making our world a better place, and we would be living a life of great value.
I really enjoyed watching Soul, not just because of the great animations, story, and music, but also because of the invaluable life lessons delivered in such an artistic way. We would all do well to not take life for granted, to cherish every day, to let go of obsessions, and to practice effective advice giving. If you have any other lessons from this film, I'd love to hear them.
Weekly Wisdom #255