I must admit that I am guilty of tuning out the chaos of life to help “shelter” my emotions. Unfortunately, I am not capable of feeding every starving child, housing all the homeless, or restoring the devastation that natural disasters cause. It is due to my limited ability to help in most circumstances (as well as the sadness, guilt, and insignificance that comes with it) that I find myself trying to avoid or bury the negatives.
How does this relate to Inside Out? In a very significant way…If you recall, once Riley’s family moves into their new home in San Francisco there are many obstacles they initially face. Let me paint the scene for you: Riley and her parents are playing in their new house when Riley's Dad's cell-phone rings. He then leaves home to attend to a work matter. His wife responds, “It’s okay. We get it.” However, Riley is not as accepting of his exit and is visibly upset. Her emotions respond by fear exclaiming, “Dad just...left us.” Sadness is quick to reply, “Oh, he doesn't love us anymore. That's sad.” Joy redirects from the disappointment by suggesting they get some lunch at a pizza place she saw down the street. Although this was a great diversion, the true feelings were buried and not addressed. When the stressful day comes to an end, Riley's mother tells her “through all this confusion, you’ve stayed our happy girl. If we could keep smiling, it’ll be a big help.” It’s a well-meaning gesture, intended to help Riley be strong. Yet it is this conversation that sets off the trouble inside Riley’s head.
Riley continues to make her best attempt at keeping up appearances. However, at a hockey tryout she fumbles a shot and storms off the ice. Her mom tries to console her by saying, “Hey, it will be alright.” Riley snaps back at her mom, “Stop saying everything will be alright!” Later at the dinner table, Riley is clearly upset. When her parents try to inquire as to why, she becomes short with them. Her dad responds, “Riley, I do not like this new attitude. I don't know where this disrespectful attitude came from!” This reminded me of something I already knew…kids are sometimes unable to determine what emotion it is that they are feeling. Without a healthy understanding of their emotions, and lack of knowledge on how to release these emotions in a healthy manner, kids will often become angry.
It becomes apparent that Anger has taken control of Riley as he states, “This is ridiculous! We can't even get a good night's sleep anymore. Stupid mom and dad; If they hadn't moved us, none of this would've happened. Our life was perfect, until Mom and Dad decided to move us to San Fran-Stink-Town! Need I remind you how great things were there (Minnesota)? Our room, our backyard, our friends...”
While this is all happening, Joy and Sadness run into Bing Bong (Riley’s imaginary friend) as he’s reminiscing of good memories and present fear of becoming obsolete. Joy tries to cheer him up stating, “Hey, it’s gonna be OK, we just need to fix this! Here comes the tickle monster!” Despite her attempts, Joy is unsuccessful. It’s Sadness that instinctively knows how to help Bing Bong. “I understand…they took something that you loved. That’s sad.” Bing Bong sobs on Sadness’ shoulder—but then Bing Bong sniffs, wipes his eyes, and feels a bit better. “How did you do that?” Joy asks Sadness. Her entire existence, up until now, has been focused on eliminating, or at least minimizing, negative emotions; she’s never realized that Sadness has an important role to play, too.
I love how Dan Kois explains this in his article entitled, “Finding Sadness in Joy - A parent grapples with Inside Out’s quietly revolutionary message about children’s emotions.”
“The emotional messages of most entertainment for kids are pretty relentlessly positive: Love your family, stay true to yourself, keep positive, never give in to despair. As the research of Stanford’s Jeanne Tsai has shown, one of the emotions that Americans privilege is joy—excited pleasure. Children see around them, in books and movies and advertisements, exemplars of delight at growing up. ‘That makes it harder to grapple with sadness,’ University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner told me. ‘It’s a vacuum in our culture. But sadness is a powerful tool, a trigger that sends kids back to their parents for comfort and connection. You gotta hang on to that sadness, because in the tumult of early adolescence, it’s the thing that can bring parent and child back together.’ ”
We see this come into play when Riley finally breaks down crying as she admits to her parents, “everything is different now, since we moved. I know you don't want me to, but... I miss home. I miss Minnesota. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friends and my hockey team... I wanna go home. Please don't be mad.” With Riley in their arms sobbing, they respond, “Oh, sweetie...We're not mad. You know what? I miss Minnesota too. I miss the woods, where we took hikes…and the backyard, where you used to play…Spring Lake, where you learned to skate…” Her parents hug her and comfort her. This heartfelt moment teaches (or reminds) us that sadness is unavoidable, but we need to be thankful for that. Without sadness, joy wouldn’t be as joyful! We need these “negative” emotions to be a part of our lives because they keep us humble and also help to enhance the joy in our lives.