Recently, I have seen Pixar’s Inside Out, a notable animation about five key emotions that shape the way we as emotional beings live, namely from Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust. Sitting through Riley’s, the main protagonist, struggle in balancing these emotions and the memories they come to form, reminded me of my formative years as a child and more importantly, resonates well with me now as an adult.
What stood out to me the most is the role that Sadness, both the character and the emotion, plays. This is often an emotion that we as adults tend not to yield to. Joy, the most coveted, is welcomed open-heartedly; Anger and Fear are also most needed, where we derive adrenalin from, converting negative energy into something useful. Then, there is Disgust, also a key remnant of our ancestors’ defense mechanism, protecting us from anything that is deemed life-threatening, and to this day, allows us to say no to an otherwise unappetizing treat. But what about Sadness? That dark and heavy cloud that hovers over us, whose presence is treated like the plague, characterized by a deep heartache — turning a lively heart into something still animate but bleeds not the warmth of red but everything that is chillingly blue. When we experience this intense emotion, we feel uneasy and are quick to dismiss, more so ignore, this gnawing at the mind and aching of the heart.
We, as adults, refuse to succumb to this momentary lapse, always equipping ourselves with happy thoughts and always resisting the urge to be sad. We were all raised by a certain mentality that deems a lively, happy, and positive person as more valuable and desirable to be and to have around, and because of that whenever we have someone who expresses sadness or melancholy, we become uncomfortable deep inside. Categorized as a personal defect, it is considered a weakness that although we all have, we simply do not want to acknowledge.
In my experience, whether brought about by hormones or simply a disheartening event, I readily tell myself it is ok and that there is no need to be sad. I simply jump over this emotion, and fill myself with happy and positive vibes, forcing myself to see rainbows and to put on a smile as if my life depended on it. While this maybe a good characteristic, I realized that I was depriving myself of a kind of expression, one that enables me to gain a new perspective, opening a new path towards a new experience that may not be available from those other four emotions.
As in the animation, in real life, there is a science behind every emotion, and there is a rewiring that occurs each time we experience Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust. I see my adult self in an 11-year-old Riley. In fact, inside every adult is an 11-year-old Riley, one whose internal struggles and resistance to sadness is so apparent and strong, that it almost led to the most undesirable circumstances (I give no spoilers here) until we realize that it is acceptable to be sad.
Sadness is by no means a weakness. Sadness is another way of being. Sometimes, it is needed, so we can be better versions of ourselves and live fuller lives. As Anthony Lane of the New Yorker in his review of Inside Out had said, which I find not only to be moving but appropriate in the way we handle sadness as an emotion, “…melancholy and regret are not things to be blocked out, let alone suppressed, but a necessary part of who we are, at any age.”