(Not too many spoilers, but maybe a couple, depending on how you look at things.)
This weekend, my husband and I went to see the new movie, Inside Out. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it: it’s a Pixar film, for one, and I was really intrigued by the topic they touched on. Emotions, and how they affect and control what we do.
There were some great themes in the film: family, growing up, and realizing that emotions are more complex than just Disgust or Fear. Wonderful — I loved all of it. But there’s one point that was clearly going to be one of the bigger, more obvious ones, and I couldn’t believe it when I figured it out. A few minutes into the film, Joy, who’s narrating, introduces the other emotions and what they do: Anger makes sure things are fair, Fear keeps Rile safe, and so on. Then she gets to Sadness. “I don’t know what she does,” Joy says. And I knew — Joy didn’t understand Sadness. Through the course of the movie, Joy was going to learn about Sadness.
This was a movie telling kids that it’s okay to be sad.
I cried a lot as a kid. (Even today I still cry more easily than I like.) For some reason, it was so easy to make me feel terrible, like things would never ever get better, from getting yelled at to getting cut in line. What was the reaction of the adults around me? Some comfort, I’m sure; I cried often enough that at least some of my tears were bound to seem reasonable, and every once in a while there was an adult who understood what it was like to be this way. But what I really remember was being told to stop crying, or moping, or whatever I was doing, and just be happy.
I don’t fault them for this, (though part of me wants to — Anger, maybe?). This came from family wanting me to be happy, much like Joy only wants Riley to be happy, all the time. But at one point this happiness is only forced. It isn’t real. All it is is you pushing other feelings back — like Joy pushing Sadness away from the memories, leaving Sadness behind because she didn’t believe this other feeling was needed — until it either builds up to be too much, or you cut yourself off from feelings altogether.
“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.” Sadness says this at one point, and while Joy is frustrated by this at the time, it’s so true. Crying, or just allowing yourself to be sad, let’s you think about what’s really wrong, and while that can be obsessive and bad, it’s also a way to understand yourself more. (I’ll take a moment to point out here that Sadness, who read the manuals, has great working knowledge of Riley’s inner mind, while Joy, who always kept her gaze outward, gets lost on her own.)
Sadness is something that needs to be felt. It doesn’t feel good, like Joy, or even satisfying like Anger, but there’s something comforting in letting yourself mourn even the little things. And as the movie shows, it doesn’t always stand alone. It can work with Joy. It can be a path to feeling better again.