One of my favorite movies to watch during the Christmas season is Jon Favreau’s “Elf,” starring Will Farrel as Buddy the “elf.” He’s really a human who’s been raised by elves (a la Mowgli and the wolves I guess). When he discovers his true roots, he leaves his home at the North Pole to go to Manhattan and find his biological dad, Walter Hobbs, played by James Caan. The first 2 acts of the film are wonderful with lots of laugh out loud moments. It kinda falls apart for me in the last act, but I love the first 2/3 enough to stick it in the DVD player each year, especially since I can now enjoy it vicariously through my 5 year-old son too.
We were watching it this morning and as I did, I noticed some things about Buddy that are actually great habits to adopt for anyone. On the surface they are played as the basis for many of the film’s jokes. But when you take the comedy away and think about Buddy’s outlook on life, you come to realize he’s on to something. So, here are the four amazing life lessons from Buddy the Elf.
1. Buddy Greets Everyone with a Hug
I don’t think you literally need to greet everyone with a hug. But the idea of greeting people with a sense of warmth and good cheer is pretty powerful. Think about how your aspect on a person changes when the first time you greet them they do so with a big smile, a firm hand shake, and/or a hearty laugh. It can have a profound impact on your view of that person. And it can also be transformative for your family life. Coincidentally, even my pastor this morning was preaching on building family and his suggestion to everyone was to always welcome family members in your home with love and/or excitement. Imagine if every time your spouse got home from work, instead of grumbling about how bad the day was, he/she greeted you with a big hug and kiss. Imagine fellas if you greeted your wife every morning when she woke up with a hug and passionate kiss. I dare say the divorce rate would go down a few notches if we could all get in that habit.
2. Buddy Edifies, Encourages, and Uplifts Everyone He Meets
When he passes by a restaurant dive in NY with a sign that reads “World’s Best Cup of Coffee,” he runs in and congratulates them. To the black woman in Greenway Press’s office that he passes in the hall he says, “Oooh, that’s a pretty dress, you look so purpley.” He tells Walter Hobb’s admin Deb that she’s so pretty her face belongs on the cover of a Christmas card. He tells Zooey Deschanel’s character Jovie that she has the most beautiful voice he’s ever heard. Buddy sees the good in people and makes it a point to celebrate them, sincerely, openly, and in a way that lifts their spirits and self esteem.
3. Buddy Loves the Unloveable
Buddy’s biological dad Walter Hubbs is a modern day Scrooge. He works too hard, neglects his son (the son he lives with and knows about), he’s a publisher of children’s books but could care less about whether the readers of those books are happy, and he’s generally in a pissy mood. Even despite the fact that he clearly expresses this vile personality to Buddy, and is quite mean to Buddy, Buddy loves him, unconditionally. Buddy even shows love and kindness to the work release guy in the mail room, an unsightly character that most people would write-off as a loser or trouble-maker. One of the hardest things in life is to love people who hurt us or in some other way are just unloveable. Buddy has found a way to look past the downsides of everyone and see their potential to be equally loving. One of the tenants of my own faith is to love my enemies and pray for them. Who woulda thunk that an elf would be such a great role model for that?
4. Buddy Doesn’t Care What People Think of Him
There’s a scene in the movie where Buddy, after a great date with Jovie, comes crashing into Walter’s office, spins around and says, “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it.” What a wonderful attitude in life. He shows that care-free attitude throughout the movie as he belts out Christmas songs loudly in public, hops up and down cross walks, and spins maniacally round and round in a glass turn-stile door way. Imagine if we all could live life like that. Where we don’t try to put on airs for anyone. Where we be the person we’re meant to be, and are proud of the bodies we have. Where we aren’t ashamed to show our feelings, and we don’t get depressed just because we’re not as popular as the other guy. There is a tremendous sense of liberation and joy that comes with not caring what other people think about you.
You may make the argument that Buddy does all of these things because he’s ignorant of the world around him, and yes to an extent that’s true (and the basis for many of the jokes). But nonetheless, it’s an example of how we could live our lives in a way that would not only improve our personal lives, but I think that it would be equally profound in our business lives as well.