Valuable Lessons from ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

By Dr. Neil Clark Warren, Founder and CEO of eHarmony

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Spoiler alert: this article reveals some important things that happen in the movie.

I believe this movie has a chance to be a long-term classic. It will become a classic if people figure out what the movie is really about. I feel that the purpose of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is not to thrill people; the purpose is much more internal. So, I’ve listed some themes that I found to be powerful messages within the film. These are ideas that resonate throughout eHarmony and our mission to help people choose better relationship partners.

Don’t judge a book…

When we first meet Walter Mitty, he seems to be a very insignificant figure. This guy is about as unimposing a person as you’d ever want to see. He doesn’t have any apparent virtue that would make you think that he would be gracing the cover of an important magazine. There is already a simple lesson in this: don’t judge a book by its cover. We all have the potential for greatness.

You can’t find your soul mate until you have found your own soul.

Walter does have one thing that turns out to be a fabulous jewel. He has an eye for beauty. He has a consistent appreciation for his co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). But the fact is, he has nothing to offer her in the beginning of the film. He has no prestige, no profoundness, he’s not developed. He doesn’t really know who he is, so how can he offer anyone anything?

Fantasy is a bridge to reality.

What he does have is a vivid imagination. Walter’s daydreams serve a higher purpose – I like to call them “practice sessions”. These fantasies plant his ideas in very fertile soil. I believe fantasy in this circumstance played a key role in his ultimate self-discovery.

A great life is a life of search.

It isn’t long before Walter gets presented with a challenge; to play the game of life. I don’t think you can find your soul until you get out in the sunlight — until you do something, become someone, and connect with others. Walter didn’t search to become a hero; his searches lead him to figure out who he was. Search for the realness of who you are.

The answers to life’s dilemmas are already there, within us.

Don’t search outside of yourself. The movie is really about what you already have. He’s got the negative in his own wallet. It hardly ever helps you to search for something of great value that is outside of yourself. You can make billions of dollars, or search to be the best race car driver that ever lived. Will that help you find your authentic self? No. It doesn’t do you any good to be a great anything, unless you have found your own soul. I also believe you find yourself when you give yourself away. Walter trades his prized childhood possession, Stretch Armstrong, for a skateboard to give to Cheryl’s son – whom he had only met once.

Don’t assume anything.

We all have those moments when we think we’ve lost the prize, but we haven’t lost it. Walter thought Cheryl got back together with her ex-husband just because he answered the door at her home. This clearly wasn’t the case. Be terribly suspicious of assumptions. Don’t try to be God, let God be God. Don’t overanalyze things too much.

One of the greatest traits one can have is humility.

Through his whole experience, Walter rises to every challenge and overcomes them all, but remains humble. He overcomes his adversaries by living a full life. Living well really is the best revenge. Walter doesn’t even look at the negative he had risked his life to find, because through his journey he found himself and contentment.

This movie deserves to be seen forever. It has the right virtues. It’s pursuing the right values. It is profound. It’s a relentless search to realize values. It’s also a movie about being, the consciousness of being – and until you get your being into consciousness, you don’t get to fully enjoy it. Ben Stiller has made a movie which tries to help us understand the ways of the human spirit — the soul. For that, I am very grateful.

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