Happiness is the pleasantest of emotions; because of this, it is the most dangerous. Having once felt happiness, one will do anything to maintain it, and losing it, one will grieve.
― Kij Johnson
Rarely has any movie stuck with me like Inside-Out. It is hard to imagine how an animated movie about an 11-year-old girl has left such a lasting impression on me, but it has. It is advertised as a kid’s movie with hidden themes for their parents to enjoy, but that is wrong. It is a movie for adults that will entertain your kids. The movie is well done like you’d expect from Pixar and it packs a massive punch. It’s a really good movie, but it’s a better adult movie than kid’s movie.
What has given this movie such staying power?
It gave me a lot to consider that can apply to my own life. It provided an open playful theme to deeply think about extremely deep themes in how you personally manage your response to reality through your emotions. The main characters in Inside-Out are the emotions of the 11-year-old girl, Riley. The dominant character is Joy, with other key emotions Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust all vying to respond to her World. When the story begins, Joy dominates Riley’s life, but a major life event throws everything into turmoil. The main conflict is how much should you allow sadness into your life and what happens when you don’t.
Riley has spent 11 years growing up in Minnesota living a life of fun, family, friends, and especially hockey. Her family picks up, and moves to San Francisco and all hell breaks loose inside Riley. Everything she has known and loved in her life has been taken away. Sadness begins to creep into her reactions, and Joy tries to reign in this reaction. Push comes to shove and disaster ensues. Riley’s emotions fall apart along with her. Riley begins to make bad decisions based on inappropriate emotional responses, and her life spirals out of control. The foundations of her entire psyche begin to fall apart. Meanwhile Joy and Sadness try to get back into her emotionalwheelhouse (along with all the hijinks that the child movie viewers will enjoy).
Emotions are not irrational, but how we rationalize the world. The key is to use the right ones for the information we are being handed. We need to use our cognitive tools represented in emotions to process our own world and respond appropriately. Irrational responses are applying the wrong emotion to the situation, which can result in bad outcomes. The world throws a lot at us and the reactions need to be proper. We have a myriad of events that range from wonderful to horrible, and our emotions need to match the event. This is rational. Therefore sadness, fear, anger or disgust despite being negative are important and proper for many things. They are necessary for our survival.
In the end, Joy and Sadness return to save the day with a key realization. Sadness is appropriate and important as a response to traumatic events. Joy is not. Trying to make everything joyous and happy is simply wrong and inappropriate. Sadness adds a texture to formerly unambiguously happy memories that now have complexity the younger Riley lacked. Riley is growing up and rebuilding her emotional world. Joy is no longer so dominant; the other emotions now have much more sway in her emotional makeup. Letting Sadness in was the key to her response to crisis.
The lesson will always repeat itself, unless you see yourself as the problem–not others.
― Shannon L. Alder
A key lesson for us today is that unhappiness and sadness are the right response to many things in life. We have a culture that drives home the message that we should always be happy and satisfied, and feel joy. Many situations call for sadness, or anger, or fear, or disgust. If we don’t feel the right emotion our reaction to the situation is inappropriate and harmful to our long-term well-being. The movie has the deep and impactful message for all of us that “negative” emotions are more than simply okay, they are powerful and proper responses to many of life’s events.
Even more powerfully there are circumstances where happiness or joy is utterly wrong and harmful. The attempt to imprint joy onto these situations hurts us and provides an improper personal response to life’s travails. Life is about balance and the push and pull of events. For us to learn, grow and develop correctly, we must process and respond to events in a way that fits the events. When we do not respond properly we can hurt our future. Moreover the full repertoire of emotions is needed to live our lives with the tools to deal with what life throws at us. The so-called negative emotions should be embraced when they fit the circumstances. In the case of Riley sadness was proper and healthy, and the attempt to feel nothing but joy left her in a tailspin of almost disastrous magnitude.
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
― Dr. Seuss