Joy and Sadness


Being a therapist, and someone who has a strong affinity for children’s movies, it was in perfect order that my little girl and I went to watch Disney Pixar’s new movie, Inside Out. It was a film that brought laughter, tears, and a much needed emotion-focused movie to the market. I’ll try not to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing it yet.

I was impressed with the accuracy, as I see it, in the portrayal of our relationship with emotions. Too often we say phrases like, “I am angry” or “I am sad.” Being a bit of a semantics nut, I often redirect these phrases to “I am feeling angry” or “I am feeling sad,” since we are not our emotions. When we use this new language we create space between us and our emotions, which can help us to see more clearly. The movie depicts emotions in just this way: the feelings influence the character but are not her. At times the emotions conflict with one another, interact with her personality, and eventually, are experienced simultaneously.

There is also an idea of “core memories,” or the memories that create our personality. Of course, many memories come, are stored, and fade away with time. Yet there is truth here, in that there are clearly pivotal moments in our lives that shape who we are, beginning in the womb. As time goes on, these core memories and personality characteristics can shift, change, and grow. The movie creates an initial fear of letting go of these old core parts, a feeling I believe most of us can relate to when we’re faced with change. Yet, as you’ll soon see, the clearing of old, no longer useful personality pieces give way for new, more mature, more complex and wonderful personality characteristics.

There are other fun bits in the movie geared toward adults, like the interaction between Mom and Dad’s emotions. And the silly parts, like dogs and cats’ emotional experiences.

The most important lesson, though, is the way in which we interact with Sadness. In the United States we are fairly comfortable with feeling, expressing, and witnessing feelings such as Joy, Disgust, and Anger. We even like to play with our fear and try new, adventurous things. Yet somehow, Sadness is an emotion we are not often understanding or tolerant of. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Keep your chin up. The more we try to push Sadness into the corner, the more prominent she becomes in our lives. This is the part that Inside Out displays beautifully: the need to embrace Sadness. I felt appreciative of the movie as I comforted my daughter’s uneasy feeling about the character, Sadness. “We need Sadness as much as we need every other feeling. She lets us ask others for help, and then other people can comfort us.”

I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by Rumi, called the Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

This suggests, as does Inside Out, the importance of accepting all emotional experiences, good, bad, or neutral. When we open our hearts and allow the emotions that come to be, we might find ourselves more able to cope with them as they move in, and inevitably, move on. Instead of taking them on as who we are, we can appreciate the experience they give us, as all emotions have purpose. Inside Out shows us the importance of sadness in reaching out for help, connecting with others, and being honest about our experiences. What might your Sadness be trying to teach you?

Need help in embracing all the different emotions in the headquarters of your mind? You can get in touch with me in the link above.

I wish you the courage to lean in,