‘Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.’
This mind-bending maxim is courtesy of the Austrian existential psychotherapist and Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl. He considered it to be one of the keys to living a meaningful life and confronting ‘life’s finiteness’. So what does it really mean, and what light does it shine on seizing the day?
One way of interpreting it, which I explore in my crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed (now 93% funded!), appears in the 2013 film About Time, directed by Richard Curtis. What at first looks like a typical romantic comedy turns out to be an enlightening take on Frankl’s idea.
About Time concerns a young man, Tim, who on his 21st birthday is told by his father that, like all men in his family, he has an inherited ability to transport himself back in time to any date or place in his memory. After overcoming his disbelief, Tim first uses his new power – unsurprisingly – to get himself a girlfriend.
But the film becomes far more philosophically interesting towards the end (get ready for some spoilers). Tim’s father is dying of cancer and reveals to his son the secret to a happy life: live each day as normal, with all its tensions and worries, then go back and live it again, but this time making an effort to notice all the beautiful moments and small pleasures life has to offer.
Tim tries this himself, but then discovers an even richer philosophy which doesn’t require any time travel at all: ‘I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it.’ Now that’s a profound idea and one we can all try out.
We see him putting it into practice – kissing his wife tenderly as she wakes in the morning rather than rushing out of bed; having fun with his kids while he makes them breakfast before school; and making an effort to look the cashier in the eye and smile when buying his lunch. Treat yourself to some of this in the wonderful final scene here.
The carpe diem message of About Time is about being in the moment, being attentive and present, noticing the sweetness of the world. As Richard Curtis said in an interview, the ‘movie is saying that we should relish every normal day and live it just for the day itself, not for what the day might achieve’.
I doubt Frankl would have agreed with this approach to life (he believed it was important to focus on future goals), but I think if he’d watched this film he still might have given it five stars.
Carpe Diem Reclaimed has reached 93% of its funding target. If you’ve been thinking of supporting the book but haven’t quite got around to it, now is the moment to seize the day and help push it over the finishing line!