I always find it interesting that Pixar movies are targeted towards children. I mean of course they use quirky characters with overly specific personalities who go on journeys that always end in a lesson- all hallmarks of kids entertainment. And those characters are almost always oddly talented animals, ambitious inanimate objects, or even manipulations of science and time, but underneath the surface they contain complicated life lessons that could only ever make sense to teenagers or adults.
So I bring your attention to the Pixar movie Inside Out, a story about a girl named Riley which characterizes the emotions inside her head- Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. As Riley moves to a new town, she has a hard time adjusting, and her ‘personality islands’- Friendship Island, Goofball Island, and Hockey Island to name a few- begin to shut down. These islands had been connected to joyful core memories- the parts of Riley’s life that made her who she was. This is distressing to Joy, who’s bossy because she doesn’t want Riley to be anything but happy. While Riley falls deeper into her mini-depression, Joy and Sadness accidentally get sucked out into other parts of the brain, leaving Anger, Fear, and Disgust in control. So the real journey begins as Joy and Sadness try to find their way back to ‘Headquarters’, and it is complete with an imaginary friend, explanations for dreams, and even materializations of how memories are stored. I know this all sounds very heavy, but the real lesson comes towards the end of the movie as Joy realizes that the majority of Riley’s core memories had actually come out of moments of sadness, which in turn became joy.
So I guess where I am going with this is that last year, (which has somehow just seeped into this year) I think a lot of our personality islands began to shut down, and maybe our Joy got lost too. I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but I really don’t think we acknowledge how much this year has affected us all. Most of the time we just push it off because we don’t want to think of it, or because we think our Sadness isn’t valid, or because we think resilience always means slapping on a bandaid. But have you ever noticed that when you get injured, it takes a second for your body to realize it’s been hurt? Once your body realizes this, then you put the bandaid on, then you begin to heal, then you begin to bounce back. Sometimes resilience means acknowledging the pain, the boredom, and the exhaustion.
So maybe we’ve pushed away our Sadness too. Maybe we felt that we needed to ignore the fact that our Joy was lost by making sure Sadness was also gone. Maybe our brains became programmed a little differently for a while, leaving Anger, Disgust, and Fear the most easily accessible emotions. And maybe because of all of these things, we forgot that Sadness and Joy actually coincide with each other. It sounds cliche, but again people often brush away cliches, and consequently don’t actually learn what they actually mean.
So I guess that’s why ordinary things seem so extraordinary these days. If you read my part of our 2020 collaboration blog, you’ll know I spoke a lot about appreciating the small moments. As those small moments are slowly, but surely becoming restored, we suddenly find ourselves feeling floods of emotions. For example, I found out recently that I would actually be able to live on my college campus starting in March. When I found out, it was as though my brain didn’t know how to react. My pure Joy and even Sadness had been on hiatus for so long that I was afraid to feel them again. I guess that for so long I had been afraid to recognize this emotional hiatus, or at least show it to the world- I was afraid of being seen as weak or dramatic or being a burden. But it’s in acknowledging this fear where I begin to find true resilience.
Now of course psychology and emotions and mental health are way more complicated than Inside Out makes it seem. After all, it is entertainment targeted towards kids. However, maybe Pixar’s simple way of explaining something we all go through, shows that children can actually understand this way more than adults think. Maybe the oddly talented animals, ambitious inanimate objects, and manipulations of science and time, actually show us that these lessons, these emotions, and these experiences are born out of being human. So please, check on and listen to your children, your students, your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.. because as much as we all write them off for being resilient or adaptive, they experience these complexities more than many of us would like to acknowledge. Too often adults try to make things better by finding direct solutions because it’s hard to see young people hurting, it’s hard to see their personality islands shut down, but it’s only through allowing pain that we can begin to feel Joy. Sometimes all you have to do is listen.
Anastasia Meininger is a college student currently studying psychology and communications.
She has been writing for The Daily Feels since she was 15 years old. Now 18, her life may have changed, but her wonder and passion for storytelling has remained the same. Falling in love with performing arts at a young age instilled this passion, as she found comfort in the idea that everyone and everything had a story.
She loves listening to music, taking photos, and dreaming of places to travel one day. Her family and friends are her most prized possessions, and her hometown of White Plains holds a permanent place in her heart.