You don’t have to be happy (by force)

Inside Out characters, “the little voices inside your head”, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness

How many stereotypes do you face in Inside Out movie?

First of all, “in life you have to be happy”.

When ever. In life, at best, you have to aspire to happiness, but if bad things happen, and they happen, it’s really useless and damaging, suppressing what they make us feel. To live well, just as you need to feel good, it’s also necessary that “negative” emotions had the right space to help us understand what is going wrong.

Happiness, or Joy, as the name of the (co) protagonist of the Disney-Pixar cartoon, is in fact only one of the five “fundamental emotions” staged in Riley’s head, a child like many others, at the door of adolescence . The great challenge of the cartoon is to provide a simple psychological model of what is likely to happen inside a human brain. As one of the many mental models that psychology has produced in decades, which are intended to illustrate what and how many universal emotions we can feel. There are those who claim they’re 5, who said 7, who 8… but for sure these 5 often return. Even though they are depicted here as puppets.

The cartoon shows us these emotions as little anthropomorphic and colorful characters living and working in the General Headquarters, or Riley’s conscious mind control center, a Minnesota girl who is about to leave her home, a move to San Francisco with mum and dad. A simple story, a girl with the “simple” first problems of nostalgia and anxiety, love and friendship, a girl with the initial destabilizations. Why am I not happy anymore?

Because emotions are 5, at least. Happiness is just one. We also have Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. Who would ask “what is the core emotion in your opinion?” I think the first four would be easy answers. But disgust? Who has ever thought of it. Then have you noticed that only one is “positive”? As we generally think, at least. So why should we only follow happiness if we are also composed of everything else? Above all, from the rest.

Our natural aspiration to happiness makes it preferable to us, identifying it as the most important one. And also the only one that doesn’t get us sick. A fondamental instint of life: certainly joy is a driving force, essential and vital, that pushes to create our “Personality Islands“. When Riley was little, she had five islands in her mind: the island of the Family, that one of Friendship, Honesty, the Hockey island, her passion, and finally “Goofball”, the island of laughing, joking, playing, trying to take things of life with the right “lightness“… But these islands would stay forever if Riley didn’t start knowing the existing “everything else”, learning to understand it. Those islands would not collapse (even momentarily) in the nothing we are incapable of remembering and feeling: Riley wouldn’t have any personal evolution without the other emotions. That’s the point.

As in a palette of colors with hundreds of shades, only Inside Out, a simple cartoon that focuses on the big Joy / Sadness conflict, face 15 emotions. From joy, combined with its/herself and the other four emotions, they create five new ones: ecstasy, melancholy, intrigue, surprise and honesty; From the sadness they arouse four: despair, self-contempt, anxiety and betrayal; Out of disgust comes three more: injury, repulsion and contempt; Fear can culminate in two: terror and hatred; From rage you can only end in a bigger rage… All these and other possible combinations, put together, in the course of a possible life, form the personality of every human being.

The extra step that Inside Out moves, with respect to any banal “list of emotions”, is also to give the idea of ​​the complexity of the “nuances” that characterize every emotion. The ways in which they can blend.

Never forget that the emotion is an “universal thing” we share with (other) animals.

Together with the good director Pete Docter, formerly author of Monster&Co., two “scientific consultants” appear in the movie featuring: Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman, professors of psychology at the University of California, the second recognized as one of the most important psychologist from the 20th century. In an article on the New York Times, the two guarantee “the accuracy” with which the human psyche was represented.

Some have maligned that Disney Pixar didn’t get their hands dirty – did they want serious psychological problems in a cartoon? Others were disappointed that they didn’t laugh as they did with Monster&Co. (cartoon that has been the merit of probing another fundamental emotion that is fear). I don’t think the intention was to point to the mother story, the one that strikes the heart, rather to create a simple cartoon that was a simple explanation of that huge mess that happens every day in our heads. An even harder goal.

Above all, put the “negative” emotions for the first time in the light. All those sentiments that everyone tends to suppress, hide, make shameful. Most importantly in a country like the United States, where happiness is the only emotion that seems to be tolerated. The rest is like to be canceled if you want to succeed. The “self-help” booklets, doubled in titles from 1970 until today, come out right from there as “indicators of the modern American goal, maximizing personal happiness through a self-discovery process”. So much that recently new approaches go to the opposite direction: “to show the great variety of psychological strengths that are ignored just because they make you feel uncomfortable or, on the surface, are socially undesirable. In certain situations, however, what seems to be good can be useless and what seems bad is useful“. What helps you to survive? Fear. What to defend? Anger. You just need to mix them and go ahead.

The Hypotonic Sadness dragged by the exuberant Joy

The message from Inside Out to all, especially children, goes in this new direction that both American and world society are taking: emotions all exist and it’s important to not ignore them.

The operation is really worthwhile. Just think of a simple post-film mechanism very conscious! When I felt the emotions in the head I figured about the puppets. Unavoidable. When I was happy, I thought about a yellow Joy charging me, but now I don’t follow her with all that unconditional admiration I had before. Finally I recognized the green and snob Disgust, (which can actually occur many times a day!). If I felt angry, I imagined the scurvy and red anger with flames from the head. When I was afraid I reminded funny Fear, purple and very hypochondriac.

But most of all, when I’m sad, the sweet Sadness comes to my mind, blue, chubby, with glasses and smooth hair splashed on her face, and a deep, lazy voice. She’s the antagonist of Joy, rejected, banned, downplayed in its role since the beginning of the movie. But Sadness is sweet, she just doesn’t know how to impose herself, she comes to do things spontaneously, feeling blocked at the same time. But Sadness needs to flow at some point, unless you pretend to be someone you are not, or worse, making choices difficult to repair. Every memory is neither yellow nor purple, neither blue nor green. Much more often it may be a mix of more emotions. They all coincide equally with the same goal: our well-being. Ignoring them is not the best way to go… happy.


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