The Lion King became one of our favorite films not just because of its ability to present the realities of life… love, loss and learning through a pride of lions, but also because of those damn catchy musical numbers! Who else couldn’t stop humming Hakuna Matata for weeks after watching? But let’s focus on the message and not the music for a second because the real Disney magic comes from the ability to weave some important life lessons into the fabric of a feel-good film.
In a typical ‘what did you learn from the Lion King’ article we would start off with the most obvious take-away from the film, Hakuna Matata. It means no worries for the rest of your days. And yet this is often the life lesson I approach with caution, because the reality is that we all carry worry in our lives. I am yet to meet a single person who can confidently say they are worry free.
The good part about that (yes there is one!) is that it goes to show no matter who we are, what we have, where we live or what job we do, we will all have moments of feeling worried, anxious or uncertain about something in our lives. And in many ways, this can be strangely comforting. It always proves to me that we are never alone, no matter what it is, someone somewhere will be thinking the same.
But before I part ways with Timon and Pumba I will say this. I think the true essence of their life lesson is that not all things deserve our worry. For example, when we find ourselves feeling anxious or unsure about everything and anything in life it can leave us feeling stuck or frozen. This is very often when we begin to feel overwhelmed and that’s the kind of worry that I think Timon and Pumba want to us to stop. The worry we carry over things we have no control over.
If on the other hand we feel anxious about an upcoming test for example, that’s a normal reaction to something important. It’s what we do with the worry that makes all the difference. If feeling anxious about doing well on the test means that we put together a study schedule and commit to spending 2-hours per day revising, then the worry has been the nudge we needed to invest time and energy into something that’s important to us.
So, what is Lion King life lesson number two. Running away doesn’t solve anything. Whilst I would love to tell you that you might meet a meerkat and a warthog, and you might also have some wonderful sing-a-longs while you’re hiding from the world, the reality is never quite so magical. Running away from our problems whether literally or through the avoidance of people, conversations and situations doesn’t feel great. And we know that much like Simba, sooner or later we will have to face what we have run from.
We can all resonate with the reason Simba runs away, and the reason he stays away for as long as he does. Fear. Facing up to issues and problems can be scary, but one of the things that the Lion King taught us is that whatever it is we need to face is never as scary as we thought it would be and…. leading me perfectly into life lesson number 3. We have so many more people willing to help us than we realize!
How many times have you gone into full ostrich mode when life has got tough, only to realize two things? Firstly, the time you spent in ostrich mode would have been way better spent tackling the issue you were worried about. Okay maybe the first day under the duvet was a welcome relief, but when we get to the 5th day there, I think we can all agree that the initial relief is usually replaced with more anxiety than the problem itself. Secondly, at the point you asked for help you were surprised at the number of people who were willing to be your Nala.
We all have Nala’s in the world, those people who are there no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen them, and who always have our best interests at heart. But life lesson number 4 is making sure we know the difference between a Lion and a Hyena. There are some people in our lives, much like the hyenas in Simba’s story, who unfortunately don’t have our best interests at heart.
When life feels hard it can be easy to feel unsure of which decision to make and who to turn to. And whilst it would be awesome if that answer could come in the form of Mufasa nestled in the clouds above us providing direction and guidance, what’s actually more awesome is that we don’t need it. We carry those answers inside ourselves. You see, when Mufasa appears to Simba he isn’t saying anything Simba doesn’t already know deep down.
The Lion King was so much more than a sing-along with Simba and his pals. In fact, the last lesson takes us full circle, back to the place where Simba was first presented to us the viewer. Pride Rock.
Because what really sits at the heart of the Lion King story is the ability to forgive ourselves for the past, the mistakes we have made and the things we can’t change, and look to the future with pride at how far we’ve come on our journey, and how much more there is to learn and experience in the world around us.
Don’t take it from me, take it from Rafiki;
“The past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”
Maria Laquerre is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who specializes in addressing trauma with clients of all ages. Maria has practiced therapy in New Mexico since her return in 2008. Maria's current passion is supporting therapists in doing their best clinical work, which she pursues through offering supervision, consultation and trainings. Maria enjoys spending time with her family, watching Star Wars and Marvel movies, discussing the psychology of pop culture and loves a good book!