Inside Out: What Emotion Drives You?

March 13, 2016

Continuing my tradition of being way behind on popular culture, I only recently saw Inside Out. I finally watched it because one of my friends, who has good taste, kept berating me until I did. I should probably listen to his advice more often, ’cause this movie was amazing.

I can hear him clambering with more suggestions. Down boy, down! Stephen has to write sometime.

I want to talk about two of the way emotions were treated in Inside Out changed my perception of those emotions. The first is deliberate on the film’s part, whereas the second is more of an open question.

First is how Joy’s perception of Sadness changes as the movie progresses. This is the one that was deliberate, and it’s the main philosophical thrust of the film. Joy starts out wondering what exactly Sadness’s role in Riley’s life is, not seeming to see much value in it. But as the story progresses, we learn that Sadness isn’t all bad. It really sunk home when Sadness was comforting Bing Bong, as she was willing to sit and listen to his worries when Joy was trying to go go go.

Sadness, it turns out, is the root of empathy. Without sadness, we can’t understand what others are going through when they hit rough times. Too much sunlight isn’t healthy. Just as fear has its place (Fear keeps Riley safe, as Joy notes), Sadness has a role too.

But more than that, Inside Up made me think of the old saying—that good cannot exist without evil. By the same token, joy cannot exist without sadness, or if it can exist, it’s not as sweet. I’m not advocating depression so the happy times are happier; we don’t need to experience the full magnitude of an emotion to receive its dividends. But a Riley without Sadness would have been a stunted person, because she wouldn’t have appreciated her own joy or empathized with others’ sadness.

All our emotions, Inside Out is saying, combine to make us who we are—as is illustrated during one of the last scenes, when Riley’s new multicolored core memories are shown—and our emotions are far more in the driver’s seat than most of us are willing to admit.

Which brings me to the second element I found interesting. This one is less emphasized, but is perhaps more interesting because the movie doesn’t give us a concrete answer.

Did you notice how everyone whose emotions we saw has a different emotion in the middle seat? For Riley, it’s Joy. For her mother, it’s Sadness. For her father, Anger. We see others, like the boy who’s shot through with fear because he saw a girl—been there, done that, kid—or the bus driver who had five doses of anger, but those are punch lines. It’s Riley and her family that made me think.

I find it fascinating to consider which of the five emotions inhabit the middle seat for people I know. I can think of a family member and a close friend who are led by Anger—both men, naturally, proving that perhaps some stereotypes come from somewhere. Riley’s mom seems driven by a low-grade worry for her husband and daughter, and I can think of people like that too. I have a close friend who’s dismissive of anyone he’s not close to—that’s Disgust. I can think of several who are compelled by Fear. I can even name some adults who have kept Joy in the driver’s seat, which is great for them.

Then I wonder which emotion is in the middle seat in my head, and I have no idea. Perhaps this is one of those times when proximity blinds me, like how it’s easy to see when your friends are screwing up their relationships but it’s hard when it comes to your own (that’s those pesky emotions’ fault again).

Fortunately, I found a chart. Or rather, I asked the friend who finally got me to watch Inside Out, and he sent me this:

Inside Out emotions chart

Turns out, I’m (and I’m quoting my friend here) “probably a Joy-centric person, but it’s not pure Joy, it’s a bunch of those other Joy hybrids.” Which feels right to me, because melancholy, intrigue, surprise, and righteousness are all frequent companions, whereas about the closest I can get to ecstasy with any regularity—outside of certain times, get your mind out of my bedroom, perverts—is a certain calm contentment.

Still, it’s nice to hear that all the effort I’ve put into being more optimistic and forward-looking has borne fruit, even if I still spend a decent amount of time on the Sadness continuum (anxiety, self-loathing), and bounce around to a few other places as well.

What about you? Which emotion drives you?

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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