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Inside Out - What Does Pixar Teach Us About Emotions?

November 02, 2015 Anna Krjatian

"Do not apologise for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots."
Giovanni, character from the book
Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Inside Out: yet another Pixar masterpiece, and a timely one at that. In a world overrun with depression and suicide, Pixar's story shows how each human emotion plays a role in our life. If you haven't yet seen it, I highly recommend it. I'd also recommend saving this article for later as it contains spoilers.

We live in a society where there seems to be a constant focus on happiness, positivity and 'good vibes'. While I believe that the highest state of existence is happiness, I feel we are slowly forgetting to feel, express, understand and appreciate our other emotions, which are equally important. Somehow along the way, humans, personal development coaches and Western philosophy have given predominance to the pursuit of happiness and if we don't, then something is wrong with us.

Please don’t get me wrong, happiness is great. Happiness is wonderful. Happiness and joy are sunny and bright and beautiful, but - and this is a big but - we must recognise, appreciate and express all the other emotions such as anger, sadness, fear and disgust. This, more than anything, was the moral of Inside Out.

We have these emotions because we need them. I learnt this in a unit that I studied at University called Writing as Communication. We learnt that the role of disgust is to identify danger. For instance, rubbish is disgusting because it is dangerous to us. If we touch it, eat it or are exposed to it, we are likely to catch a disease. When surrounded by rubbish, we are meant to feel disgusted. When we feel disgusted, we are directed towards an action to resolve the emotion - like throwing the garbage in the bin. Similarly, if something is unjust, like the murder of an innocent person, we can feel angry. This emotion also directs us towards action, such as inspiring us to sign a petition, rally in protest or become a lawyer who stands for justice.

So when our emotions are in overdrive because too much is going on and we don’t know what we are feeling, but we certainly don’t feel happy, then we need to stop, breathe and give ourselves a break before we breakdown.

In the movie, instead of letting the protagonist, Riley, express herself, Joy, the self-appointed captain of Riley’s emotional ship, is obsessed with safeguarding the young girl’s life with only ‘happy’ memories. Even when the the world as Riley knows it is falling apart around her, Joy is focussed on working overtime to ensure that Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear (Riley’s other emotions), can’t ‘ruin’ Riley’s happiness, even though they are all eager to express themselves in certain situations.  

However, while Joy is so busy being happy and suppressing the other emotions, she doesn’t realise that some happy memories are actually the result of a sad, angry or fearful event. This significant moment happens when Joy rewinds a happy memory of Riley’s Hockey team throwing her up in the air and recognises that minutes before, Riley was crying because she lost the Hockey match. Riley’s parents and team wanted to cheer her up and, as a result, the sad event was transformed into a happy recollection.

It is here that Joy recognises the role Sadness plays in Riley’s life, and the movie ends with all the emotions working together with Riley's life. So instead of the single-coloured memories churned out in Riley’s memory bank, her emotional HQ team now transforms them into a rainbow collection. So Joy and Sadness produce Blue and Yellow memory marbles, Anger and Disgust produce Green and Red memory marbles and Fear contributes in with its purple moments in moments of panic as well.

Inside Out teaches us many valuable lessons about life and our emotions. Most importantly, it teaches us to appreciate each emotion and the role it plays in our life and use it appropriately in any given situation. The movie shows that while we may want Joy to rule our mind, sometimes the reality is that we are overwhelmed by life circumstances or are angry with a someone, sad at some situations or scared of the unknown. And it’s OKAY to feel that way because instead of ignoring and suppressing the emotions, our awareness can help us create an action plan to help resolve the problem. By applying this process over time we can grow, mature and develop into emotionally intelligent beings.

Because we are all humans with feelings, not robots with programs.

It’s OK to express your feelings (within reason and appropriateness to the situation).

And there is nothing wrong with breaking down and being sad or angry or scared.

It just means you’re human.

And probably that you need a holiday.

So give yourself a break, before you breakdown.

You probably need it.

Anna Krjatian is the founder and director of The Butterfly and the author of Unmasking Depression. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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1 comment

  • Melissa

    Nov 03, 2015

    Great post! I remember going into the movie with no expectations since I didn’t really understand the premise, and at the end I felt like life had slapped me with a reality check. It’s incredibly how accurate the movie is when it comes to human emotions (even animal ones as seen at the end. The cat, I laughed so hard I cried!)
    I think the world would be a much much better place if people did express their emotions, as you said in healthy ways, but just expressed things particularly like sadness which is always accompanied with ’don’t cry’. That phrase has it’s time and place, but sometimes a person really just needs that release and no one has the right to take that away from anyone else.
    It makes me incredibly grateful that although I had a tough and somewhat unstable upbringing, whenever I needed to cry about something I was almost always comforted (there were a few teachers I didn’t favour much).
    In short, it’s okay not to be okay. Whatever you’re feeling you need to let out before it consumes you and you do something you’ll regret because the burden of emotions you’re carrying is too much to handle. You are not less of a person for doing so, in fact, releasing emotions creates more room to become a better person.


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