We’re into the season of Christmas films again now.

I wrote about why I enjoy watching these a couple of years ago.

Last week, I watched ‘Collateral Beauty’ – a 2016 film starring Will Smith that passed me by until now.

Strictly speaking, it’s probably not a Christmas film – it’s set at this time of year, but Christmas isn’t the main theme.

But, to me, it feels similar in nature to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ and, like them, has a slightly ‘magical’ quality woven in with some interesting and useful reflections.

At the start, before his personal tragedy (his six-year-old daughter dies), Smith’s character (Howard, an advertising executive) asks his team:

“What is your ‘why’?

Why did you even get out of the bed this morning?

Why did you eat what you ate?

Why did you wear what you wore?”

He says that it’s not all just about selling/buying things but that life is about people and we’re here to connect.

He goes on to explain that ‘the big why’ (we buy things) is about how they will improve our lives and based on three abstractions: Love, Time and Death.

And that these three abstractions:

“… connect every single human being on Earth.

Everything that we covet,

everything that we fear not having,

everything that we end up buying

is because, at the end of the day,

we long for Love,

we wish we had more Time,

and we fear Death”

Later on there’s mention of how these three things interlock when a life is fully lived – and that experiencing loss can reveal ‘collateral beauty’, hence the film’s title.

I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen the film yourself (and I do recommend it) but I don’t think it will do any harm if I mention here that when Howard feels really lost after the death of his daughter, from a state of deep despair, he writes three letters: one each to Love, Time and Death, and he receives some unexpected answers.

In some ways this is a bit like the three ghosts of Christmas (past, present and future) in ‘A Christmas Carol’ and each response challenges Howard (and some other characters, too) and facilitates some reflection.

I love stories that do this – they help me think about myself and my own life, too – and it’s something that I suspect we’re inclined to do a little more of as we approach the end of one year and the start of the next.

I think this may be particularly true this year with all that’s happened with the global pandemic, and how hard this year has been for so many of us.

If you’ve experienced a particularly difficult loss this year, I appreciate that this might not be the right time for you to watch this – but, for others, it may be a timely reminder to reflect on what’s important.

I’m reflecting on my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours this year in terms of what might have been going on underneath some of these.

What about you? Maybe one or more of these three abstractions might have been there in the mix:

  • a longing for Love – or human touch – or connection, at least?
  • a wish for more Time – or maybe, at some times, a feeling of too much (unoccupied) time on your hands?
  • a fear of Death – I suspect that, for many of us, this has been more real and tangible than it may have ever been in previous years and has often been as much about protecting others (especially loved ones) as confronting our own mortality.

Similar themes have also popped up during my work with clients and supervisees, at conferences, and in the workshops I’ve attended and facilitated.

There’s no one ‘right answer’, of course, and the meaning we each make will be as individual and unique as we are.

I also know, from experience, that some of our answers can feel somewhat ‘unpalatable’. We feel uncomfortable saying some things out loud, especially to our nearest and dearest. Sometimes these thoughts and feelings seem to come from a part of us that we don’t recognise, or maybe don’t want to accept – our ‘shadow side’, our resentment, our fear or loneliness.

That’s all just a part of being human, and part of our personal growth is to learn to listen to, and accept, all aspects of ourselves.

In 1980, Irvin D Yalom defined four ‘givens’ of the human condition, things we all encounter at some time in our lives:

  • Death
  • Meaning
  • Isolation
  • and Freedom

Exploring how we feel about these can help us understand ourselves better and find ways in which we can meet our own ‘basic human needs’.


    • feel understood by others
    • feel connected with others
    • give and receive attention
    • take account of the mind-body-spirit connection
    • be stimulated
    • express our creativity

And to have:

    • a sense of control
    • purpose and goals
    • a connection to something bigger than ourselves

If any of this feels difficult or problematic for you, I encourage you to talk it out/explore it with someone you trust (a professional or a friend).

A problem shared, and all that – you might find the process interesting and therapeutic – and I recommend remaining open to alternative points of view, too.

Talking really can help.