Sadness as a Superhero!

Authenticity Respect Well-being


Key Point: Emotional Intelligence includes each of us becoming acutely aware of our own emotions and the feelings of others. Mental wellness at work/life (how could we possibly separate these?) is finally getting the attention it deserves. That’s one reason I love Pixar’s new “kids” movie, Inside Out. Drawing on real neuroscience and the latest psychological research, the movie goes where no animated film has gone before; into the inner workings of a young (11-year-old) girl’s mind. Early in the movie’s production, its brilliant director Pete Docter, invited well known psychologist Paul Ekman to brief the crew on the nature of emotions. According to Ekman, there are seven emotions with universal facial signals—the five that ended up in the movie, plus contempt and surprise. 

Spoiler Alert – If you want Inside Out to be a complete surprise….don’t read until after seeing it.

The movie focuses on Riley, a happy, hockey-loving girl from Minnesota who is abruptly confronted with a family move across the country. Most of the action, though, takes place inside her head, where her staff of personified emotions — Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust — are in charge of operations. As Joy (Amy Poehler) vies for control, she and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) get lost deep in the recesses of Riley’s mind, leaving Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) at the helm. Riley is left angry and sullen to the outside world until Joy and Sadness make peace and return to their positions inside central control, “headquarters.”

As one might expect, Joy is always positive and full of bounce. And Sadness just wants to lie down and kind of feel her feelings. Yet Joy and Sadness come to appreciate their need for each other. There is a touching moment in the film where Sadness sits down next to a character that is upset about something. Joy’s first instinct is to distract the character, try to cheer him up and talk over him. However, Sadness quietly sits down next to him and says, “I’m very sorry that you lost something that you love. That must make you very sad.” Of course that empathy is what the character needs to cheer up and move forward. 

As Poehler reveals during an interview about the movie: “We tell ourselves that the constant pursuit of happiness is what we need to do, and if you’re not doing it, you’re doing something wrong. Instead, this big concept of feeling your feelings and trying to stay true to who you are and what you want, that’s the journey…” 

Character Moves:

  1. Get closer to your emotions and be honest about them. I have come around to appreciate the goodness that can come from pursuing happiness (as long as it stops well in advance of narcissism). I have learned that chasing happiness is empty without paying advance attention to meaning, vocation and humility. However, what’s perhaps most important is appreciating without judgment, that a rich life has a place for all the emotions. Knowing what we are honestly feeling is most important regarding connecting with our authentic self. When we ignore or suppress joy and sadness all we are left with is anger, fear, and disgust.
    Perhaps, thankfully what’s most different from a mind of an 11-year-old is our ability to have more command over the emotion “control panel.” As adults, we have the additional capability to acknowledge our feelings and make choices before we act on them. 
  1. Sadness is real, raw, genuine and a gateway to having the necessary empathy and compassion for yourself and others. In that regard, sadness and joy are full life partners. At the end of the movie, the core emotions were richer because they were infused with more than one emotion – they became multi-colored balls rather than the simplistic one colored balls they began with. We must know and appreciate our emotions and how they interact and enrich our lives. Frankly, at work we will all benefit from being more “feeling,” present with others and ourselves. What do we notice? How do we feel? What are others around us feeling? Some days sadness is and deserves to be a superhero… It’s the bridge to reconnecting with joy. 
  1. I’d recommend you see the movie. You can see the trailer here

Sadness as a superhero in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: As a generally, sometimes perpetually “good mood” person, I haven’t always understood or validated “sadness.” Sadness, to me, is reserved for life’s (fortunately) occasional dark moments. I’d think, “you’re sad? Ok, do something to cheer yourself up.” Well… To many, that isn’t fair. In fact, it’s freaking annoying. I had to learn that people are “allowed” to be sad, and you can’t “tell people how to feel.” No matter how “trivial” the situation may seem, that’s not my judgment to make. Now, I’m far from perfect at this, but it’s a work in progress. Sure, Inside Out might be animated, but it sounds like it’s about as real as it gets.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis