I recently took my kids to see the PG-rated movie Inside Out. It’s a Disney Pixar film where the emotions of an 11-year-old girl named Riley are characterized as Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.
NOTE: If you plan on seeing the movie there is a spoiler alert below!
Joy, as the name implies, tries her hardest to keep things happy and fun. She wants Riley’s long-term and short-term memories to be full of good times and pleasant thoughts. Joy is constantly trying to keep Sadness at bay for she believes it’s only happy memories that help us get through difficult times. Sadness is left feeling guilty, apologizing for all the times she unwittingly caused Riley to feel the pain of the losses associated with her recent move from Minnesota to San Francisco.
As the movie progresses, Riley becomes more agitated as the conflict between Joy and Sadness allows Riley’s other emotions (Fear, Anger, and Disgust) to take center stage causing Riley to lose self-confidence, argue with her parents, and eventually attempt to return to Minnesota.
It’s not until the end of the movie, when Joy realizes that Sadness is an equally important emotion, that Joy stops trying to orchestrate the array of emotions. Once Joy allows Sadness her due part Riley runs toward her parents, instead of away from them. She openly admits her pain . . . her struggles . . . her losses . . . her grief. This is the turning point of the movie as Riley is finally able to begin the process of adjusting to her new life. We know it won’t be easy, but now there is hope for Riley.
I wish I could say that undermining the importance of sadness was only in fictitious movies, but the truth is that it’s very much a part of our reality as well. In our culture happiness is the goal isn’t it? We are fed, spoonful by spoonful, the notion that we should be happy all the time – joyful, playful, always looking on the bright side. Anyone whose sadness lingers is outcast, labeled as “depressed,” and likely prescribed medication to make them “happy” again.
In the movie (and in real life) sadness matters. We need sadness. When we don’t allow ourselves to be sad, other emotions such as anger, fear, self-doubt, despair, and resentment consume us. When we have the courage to feel our emotional pain it frees us to fully embrace the joy that awaits us.
So the next time we are confronted with sadness in ourselves or others (especially kids), instead of saying “don’t be sad,” maybe we can just be patient and sit with the sadness for a while knowing that it eventually paves the way to real joy.
Have you ever felt pressure to “be happy” even when you were sad?
Grieve Well . . . Live Well