Sadness is your friend: A lesson from “Inside Out”

Is Sadness really necessary? Shouldn’t we try like crazy to get rid of all the unhappy moments in our lives? While watching Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out the other day I reflected on the difficult truth that Sadness is as much a part of having a fulfilling life as Joy.

As a professor of psychology and a practicing Clinical Psychologist I am often asked, “What is a good goal for therapy?” Many will say generic, impersonal things like “Increased psychosocial functioning,” “decreased symptoms,” or perhaps simply, “be happier.” But none of these broad goals ever feels satisfying to me.

Is it best to just try to be happy all the time? Should I try to make the most money? Buy the most toys? See the most countries? Plenty of rich, well-traveled people will tell you that’s not going to make you happy all by itself. No, if I’m going to suggest to someone a generic goal for life or therapy I’ll tell them something like, “Be as authentically YOU as possible, as often as you can.”

(SPOILER ALERT) Toward the end of Inside Out the main emotion character, Joy, has the startling realization that feeling and sharing our Sadness is crucial to sustained happiness and relational connection. In order to heal from her pain, grief and anger Riley (the owner of the mind in which Joy resides) must first acknowledge her Sadness. Before she can embrace her difficult new situation and any good might offer, she must integrate her experience of multiple emotions without casting any aside.

All of Riley’s feelings are vital and provide her with important shades of color for her memories. Riley’s complex-and sometimes unpleasant-feelings allow her to have an authentic presence with the people around her.

But I believe the key takeaway is that it’s not just feeling our emotions that is the key. Sharing them is what helps create strong bonds of trust, connection, safety, openness and-ultimately-happiness.

If you’re having a hard time getting out of your head or really connecting with the important people in your life I hope you’ll reach out to someone for little help and encouragement.

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Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Orange County, California. If you’d like to set up a consultation at the Orange County office call 657-200-8080 or visit www.californiaalturavista.org.

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