‘Alexander’ And His Terribly Fantastic Day

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, July 6, 2015

Singapore -- Some comedies are indeed suitable for all in the family. One good example would be ‘Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’.

It is even educational for kids and grown-ups – who have yet to grow up! In a scene before bed, Alexander’s mother Kelly asks Ben, his father, ‘You’ve been unemployed for the past seven months. Aren’t you stressed out?’ Ben replies, ‘Yeah, a little bit.’ Kelly quizzes on, ‘Why aren’t you freaking out more?’ Ben says, What good would freaking out do? Then I’d be freaked out and unemployed.’ Good point!

This reminds me of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s reply to the question of what is ‘the secret of his good humour’. His reply was that, ‘Faced with difficulties, I take the advice of Shantideva, an 8th century Indian [Buddhist] master who said “Think carefully about difficulties you face – if they can be overcome, there is no need to worry. What you need to do is make effort. If they can’t be overcome, worry is of no use.” This is practical advice that I follow myself. My other secret is that I get nine hours’ sleep.’ And yes, Ben and Kelly go to sleep after.

This is one of those movies that both grumpy kids and grouchy adults should watch, to learn a lesson or two on how one’s attitude does determine the quality of one’s day more than anything else – even if your negative karma dishes you a string of unfortunate events. ‘There is no such thing as a bad day – it’s how you look at it.’ True, but Ben realises later that there is no need to be a relentless optimist when ‘too many’ things go haywire. Of course, there is no need to be pessimistic either. What needed is to be realistic by using Shantideva’s advice above.

All in the course of one incredibly eventful day of misadventures, Alexander and his family, to their own surprise, bonded like never before together to help out one another. As he puts it, ‘The worse things are, the better the family gets.’ The terrible is indeed not surely terrible after all! He even exclaims later that ‘This bad day is the best ever!’ The truth is, be it in one day or over many days, good and bad experiences alternate due to our mixed karma and the law of impermanence. ‘The day is not over till it is over.’ Stretch this to cover this whole life and over many lives!

Alexander also had an interesting ‘insight’ – ‘You’ve got to have bad days to love the good days even more.’ Now, is this not a paradox? If he had not just a ‘bad day’, but a ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day’, that nevertheless turned out wonderful in the end, culminating in his dream birthday party come true, was it really a ‘bad day’ in the first place? Good or bad, then, must be arbitrary labels we slap upon our experiences. Even if it is a conventionally bad day, all the more should our attitude to it be good, to make the most good of it!

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