The film is often considered an allegory of self-improvement, emphasizing that happiness comes from placing the needs of others above one's own selfish desires. As the released film offers no explanation why the time loop occurs—or why it ends—the viewer is left to draw his or her own conclusions. Rubin has said that while he and Ramis discussed several of the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the film, they "never intended [it] to be anything more than a good, heartfelt, entertaining story".
"Groundhog Day", as an expression, has become shorthand for the concept of spiritual transcendence. As such, the film has become a favorite of some Buddhists who see its themes of selflessness and rebirth as reflections of their own spiritual messages. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it has been seen as a representation of purgatory. "Connors goes to his own version of hell, but since he’s not evil it turns out to be purgatory, from which he is released by shedding his selfishness and committing to acts of love," wrote Goldberg. "Meanwhile, Hindus and Buddhists see versions of reincarnation here, and Jews find great significance in the fact that Connors is saved only after he performs mitzvahs [sic] (good deeds) and is returned to earth, not heaven, to perform more." It has even been described by some religious leaders as the "most spiritual film of our time". “The curse is lifted when Bill Murray blesses the day he has just lived," wrote the critic Rick Brookhiser. "And his reward is that the day is taken from him. Loving life includes loving the fact that it goes.”
Theologian Michael P. Pholey, writing for Touchstone Magazine, commented on the difficulty of determining a single religious or philosophical interpretation of the film, given Ramis's "ambiguous religious beliefs" as "an agnostic raised Jewish and married to a Buddhist", and suggested that when not viewed through a "single hermeneutical lens", the film could be seen as "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Others see an interpretation of Nietzsche’s directive to imagine life—metaphorically or literally—as an endless repetition of events. "How would this shape your actions?" asks Goldberg. "What would you choose to live out for all eternity?"
Time loop duration speculations
In relationship to the spiritual interpretations of the films, many have tried to estimate how long Phil supposedly remains trapped in the loop, in real time, with a wide variance in estimated values. During filming, Ramis, who was a Buddhist, observed that according to Buddhist doctrine, it takes 10,000 years for a soul to evolve to its next level. Therefore, he said, in a spiritual sense, the entire arc of Groundhog Day spans 10,000 years. Deezen noted that the second draft of the screenplay called for Phil to be cursed to live the time loop for 10,000 years. In the DVD commentary, Ramis estimated a real-time duration of 10 years. Later, Ramis told a reporter, "I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It takes at least 10 years to get good at anything, and allotting for the down time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years."
In 2005, Rubin said, "Ultimately it became this weird political issue because if you asked the studio, 'How long was the repetition?', they'd say, 'Two weeks'. But the point of the movie to me was that you had to feel you were enduring something that was going on for a long time ... For me it had to be—I don't know. A hundred years. A lifetime." In 2014, the website WhatCulture combined various time duration assumptions and estimated that Phil spent a total of 12,395 days—just under 34 years—reliving Groundhog Day.