I just saw the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. As to be expected of any Pixar venture, the lesson of the movie was poignant. Joy, who spends most of the movie being an unintentional (yet enthusiastic) bully to Sadness, ultimately learns a mix of emotions are important for leading a balanced life.
That’s all well and good for the fictional world of Pixar, but out here in reality there is a different set of expectations. Our culture expects Joy to be in the driver’s seat. The other emotions are only allowed to drive under extreme circumstances, and to let them take over, especially when you’re a female in public, often leads to dire social consequences.
The movie aptly demonstrates the unfortunate results of this expectation. When Joy and Sadness are attempting to return to “Headquarters,” we see Joy steamroll Sadness multiple times. Any time Sadness recommended a solution or gave Joy a warning, Joy would ignore it in favor of optimism. Her denial delayed their return to headquarters to the point where a solvable problem ballooned into a dire crisis.
Much like Joy was fixated on keeping her charge, an 11-year-old named Riley, happy all of the time, American culture is fixated on relentless optimism. From the way we run our businesses to the way we run our government, we have effectively removed constructive anger, worry, and fear to the point where the only voices we’ll listen to are the ones who have positive things to say.
Yet we don’t live in a world where only good things happen. By embracing positivity to this degree, we are effectively lying to ourselves and each other.