My two-year-old grandson and I “watched” Inside Out recently. More to the point, I watched as he ran around looking for things to get into, but I found myself intrigued by the psychology. This movie really is a graphic dissertation on human emotional development. The main point? Emotions grow more complex as we age. That complexity means all the emotions necessarily function simultaneously and bump into one another, often contradicting.
Little Riley from the Disney movie has a core memory that teaches Joy a serious lesson. In order for joy to take its place, we need the other emotions first. Riley lost an important hockey game, and sadness took center stage. Before sadness set in, I imagine fear of failure, disgust with her missed shot, and a bit of anger over the loss escorted her into Sadness’ presence. She had to sit with Sadness a bit before Joy could take back over on the control panel of her emotional HQ–if you haven’t seen the movie, you really should.
We live in a culture where parents guard their children from sadness and fear, refuse to allow them to explore anger and disgust, and generally seek joy at all cost. I wonder, though, how fully we’ve considered that cost. Removing the disappointment of not winning has led us to the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality that removes initiative. Lack of initiative impedes achievement. Real achievement leads to genuine joy, so we eliminate the possibility of their experiencing true joy, the very emotion we set out to give them. No wonder sadness and anger take the helm in so many emotional HQs. No wonder so many people suffer from depression; they’ve been trained to believe there’s something wrong with being sad because we always want them happy. The balance of human emotions calibrates toward negative emotions and gets stuck there.
Solomon addresses this issue in Ecclesiastes 3, or if you’re of the secular sort, you can hum “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds here, but I’ll go ahead and site the original source. “To everything there is a season… 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
Wow! Did Disney use Ecclesiastes as their outline?
Just as Riley had to learn to balance her human emotions as an eleven-year-old girl facing a difficult move across country, our children need to deal with their disappointments while they still have their parents around to help guide them through it. We can never eliminate sadness; we can only postpone it, and when Sadness is neglected, she gets even sadder. In short, we push off their real sadness to a time when they are alone, with their lovely little support system back home remodeling their bedrooms into mancaves.
I don’t mean to trivialize depression or any other mental illness or disorder. They are very real, and I can’t say I have a simple fix. I truly wish I did, but I know this: telling depressed people they need to get over it and just be happy because they have so much to be happy about is not the fix. I do know there is hope, though.
Psalm 30:5b sums it up well: “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
The next time my grandson comes to me with tears in his eyes, I hope I’ll remember to sit down and cry with him a bit… and then I’ll put him in tickle jail.
…and that’s the view From My Front Porch.