Lessons from Inside Out

If you haven’t seen Inside Out yet, you should. Inside Out takes place in the mind of 11 year old Riley, a happy hockey loving 11 year old who’s world gets turned upside down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Along the way Riley learns to wrangle five personifications of her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger.

I’ve watched this movie a few times now and it’s lessons stick with me long after the movie is over. Inside Out isn’t a movie just for children but for all ages, there is something in it for everyone. Here are three lessons that really got me thinking.

There is more to being happy than boundless positivity

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All right everyone, fresh start! We’re gonna have a good day, which will turn into a good week, which will turn into a good year, which will turn into a good life!
Joy

Inside Out begins with a manic pixie type emotion called Joy that helms the controls inside Riley’s mind. Joy’s overarching goal is to ensure that Riley is always happy, but by the end of the film Joy, like Riley and the audience, learn that there is much, much more to being happy than boundless positivity. Joy’s initial short-sightedness keeps her from seeing the benefit of other emotions.

Joy’s lesson in Inside Out is that forcing happiness isn’t necessarily a good idea. The more people strive for happiness, the greater the chance that they’ll set very high standards and feel disappointed and less happy when they’re not able to meet those standards all the time. So what’s a more effective route to happiness? Recent research points to the importance of ‘prioritising positivity’, deliberately putting time aside in life for experiences that we enjoy. Fostering happiness, not forcing it.

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Emotions help us to understand and process the world

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Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.
Sadness

Early in the movie Joy admits she doesn’t understand what Sadness is for or why she’s in Riley’s head. It seems Sadness simply slows down Joy’s desire for quick decisions and quick fixes, she is a sluggish, slumped-shouldered character who Joy literally has to drag around Riley’s mind.

Sadness is responsible for some of the movie’s greatest revelations, I won’t give them away if you haven’t seen it yet but for those who have I’m sure you connected strongly with Sadness. Sadness helps us understand the world, like she helps Bing Bong when he feels dejected after the loss of his wagon. Where Joy’s attempt to put a positive spin on Bing Bong’s loss failed, Sadness’s empathic understanding helps him recover.

While emotions like sadness, fear and anger can be extremely uncomfortable, all of these emotions serve an important purpose. Emotions provide insight that can help us connect with others, avoid danger or recover from loss. Don’t ignore them, they are there to help you grpw and learn.

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Suppressing an emotion isn’t the answer

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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…
Riley

Riley wants to be happy, just as her parents and any other 11-year-old girl thinks she should be, but she becomes overwhelmed with the different feelings she’s begun experiencing.. Unable to cope, Riley loses interest in friends, activities and core personality traits that once made her happy and made her the person she is. This, of course, psychologists will say is a classic description of depression.

At one point, Joy attempts to prevent Sadness from having any influence on Riley’s psyche by drawing a small “circle of sadness” in chalk and instructing Sadness to stay within it. This type of emotional suppression is known to lead to anxiety and depression, particularly among teenagers.

This can sound familiar to many people that have experienced depression, which is why Inside Out is such a great representation of the issue. In the end instead of avoiding or denying Sadness, Joy accepts Sadness for who she is. When Riley eventually breaks down, releasing all the emotion bundled inside and embracing her feelings, she is able to begin rebuilding and moving forward.

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Inside Out is full of lessons for both young and old, and is already being used to help in counselling children all over the world. The lessons about loss, sacrifice, the importance of emotions and how to cope with change (just to name a few) are proving invaluable for children.

When the story was pitched to Mindy Kaling, the voice for Disgust, she broke down in tears, explaining…

I just think it’s really beautiful that you guys are making a story that tells kids that it’s difficult to grow up and it’s OK to be sad about it.