What “Silver Linings Playbook” taught me about goal setting

People who know me know this: Silver Linings Playbook is the best movie I’ve ever seen about mental illness.

I own it. I’ve watched it a zillion times. And every time I watch it, I get something new out of it.

Why do I connect with this film so much? I think it’s because, unlike most mental illness films, Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t concern itself so much with mental illness treatment, or the circumstances that get people into treatment. Silver Linings Playbook is much more about what it’s like to live with mental illness, and trying to make a life for yourself in a world that often doesn’t understand you.

The film is about a lot of things, but the main focus is the budding relationship between Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence.) There’s a lot of sexual tension. How could there not be, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence? But there’s more than that. I love the way Pat and Tiffany negotiate the yings and yangs of their frayed social skills. They can easily drive each other crazy. But they’re both smart enough to realize that they need each other.

One of the things Tiffany needs is a dance partner. For no discernible reason except just to do it, she’s always wanted to enter a big Philadelphia dance competition. But she needs a partner, or she can’t get in. Begrudgingly, Pat becomes her partner, and much of the second half of the film focuses on their getting ready for the competition.

Some criticized the film for going “too Hollywood” with this scenario. But every mental illness specialist that I know of will tell you how important it is to set goals as a method of dealing with the illness. Tiffany had that goal. The dance sequences were metaphors for her recovery, and for Pat’s.

Here’s what Pat and Tiffany looked like when they first started practicing:

And here’s what they performed at the competition:

They still have their mental illnesses to deal with. But they also have the satisfaction of knowing that they accomplished what they set out to do.

Last year, I had a big goal–finishing my master’s degree program at Harvard. I did that. And now I’m working on some new goals. Every time I think of a new goal, I think of Pat and Tiffany and Silver Linings Playbook.

As Pat says in the film, “You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, you have a shot at a silver lining.”

This is something I need to hear frequently. I’m so glad that I have Bradley Cooper, and this film, to remind me.

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