JILL RICHARDSON: Pixar’s lesson for kids — and adults
Pixar’s latest flick holds some major life lessons for kids — and adults, too.
Inside Out takes place inside the head of an 11-year-old girl, Riley, as she and her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The main characters are cute personifications of the main characters inside of each of us: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.
Joy, played by Amy Poehler, runs the show, attempting to keep Sadness from bringing Riley down as she struggles with her family’s move. As far as Joy’s concerned, Sadness is a downer. And really, what’s the point of being sad anyway?
Riley’s parents pile on by encouraging her to be happy all the time and praising her when she manages a smile.
You might recognize this parental behavior, because it’s a common one.
At one point or another, parenting means finding yourself in a situation when your child’s emotions are really, really inconvenient. Sometimes in a public place, frequently over an issue that — to you, as an adult — is no big deal, and often with loud sobs and crocodile tears.
What do you do?
Some parents try to dismiss their child’s emotions. Others use anger: “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” I’ve even heard an adult try to scare a kid by telling her that if she didn’t cut it out, nobody would want to play with her.
Adults do it to one another, too. Most recently — and most egregiously — I was told to “think positive” when a friend was killed by a drunk driver. “We all go eventually,” a would-be counselor suggested. “At least for him it was fast.”
No, I’m sorry. I need to feel sad when I’m sad. We all do — and that’s the lesson of this movie.
The plot shifts from Sadness-as-a-bummer to Sadness-as-a-hero when another character loses a beloved toy. Joy tries her antics to cheer him up, but they don’t work. Then Sadness sits next to him and empathizes. She listens to him, really feels his pain.
The result? He cheers up.
It’s only by truly feeling your sadness that you can come back to joy. That’s true of anger and fear, too. Yet many of us are conditioned to repress our painful emotions in an attempt to make them go away.
Only they don’t. And it’s really unhealthy.
This isn’t even news. Over 25 years ago, The New York Times reported that people who repress their emotions are more prone to asthma, high blood pressure, and “overall ill health.” More recent studies have found links between suppressing anger and migraines.
A Huffington Post writer puts it plainly: “Keeping your emotions bottled up could kill you.”
Every parent wants what’s best for their kids. But our attempts to get little ones to stop crying might have long-term consequences for their mental and physical health.
It can be uncomfortable to feel a child’s pain, to truly empathize with him or her. But Pixar gave us a gift with this movie’s moral: We need all our emotions to be healthy — including the ones that hurt.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org.