According to Pixar, Sadness Has An Important Job

Pixar helps us wake up to our own emotions and see the value of sadness in healing and acceptance.


As a counselor, I’ve been so excited lately about the success of Pixar’s new film, Inside Out.  If you’ve read any of the reviews or watched any of trailers I’ve posted on Facebook, you probably already know the premise, but let me sum it up, just in case you missed it.

Riley, age 11, moves across country with her parents for her dad’s new job.  The action of the movie centers on how Riley’s emotions, personified as five different characters (Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness), interact on the inside as Riley experiences this transition on the outside.

There are a couple of different trailers, and I really like this one:

After eagerly anticipating this movie for the better part of a year, I’m happy to report that it was EVEN BETTER than I thought it would be–and I had some seriously high expectations.

As we were driving home from the movie last night, talking about all we had seen, my husband Andy asked, “Is this going to be a whole blog series?”

I don’t know.  Maybe.

Okay, honestly?  I already started the next post.  So yeah.

There’s just too much awesomeness in this movie for one post.

For example.  Two of the characters are exploring deep in the brain, and one says, “What IS this place?” The other one replies, “This is the subconscious.  It’s where we put all the trouble makers.”  (In a theater full of 6-year-olds, nobody thought that was funny but me.  I thought it was hysterical.  Psychology humor.  It’s the best.)

So, you’re going to get at least two posts on this.  Maybe more.  Depending on if I go see it again.  Which I might.

For today, though, I want to talk about this one major premise of the movie:

Nobody knows what sadness is for.

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is Riley’s primary emotion.  Riley’s had a great childhood, and she’s a happy kid.  Joy’s in charge with all kinds of energy and enthusiasm, and, as far as everybody knows, that’s perfectly wonderful.

Of course, every kid gets angry or scared or disgusted at times, and Joy understands what those emotions are for:  protection and safety and social belonging.

Sadness, though?  Sadness is just kind of blobby and lethargic and unattractive.  

Joy keeps all the other emotions on task and on target, but she doesn’t know what to do with Sadness.  And Sadness doesn’t know what to do with herself, either.  Nobody knows what sadness is for.

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At one point, Joy draws a chalk circle and tells Sadness to just stand inside the circle.  But, as Riley struggles through a tough transition, Sadness keeps escaping.

While Joy is a wonderful character and you just love her to pieces, there’s this one moment when Joy says, “I just want Riley to be HAPPY.”  You realize: wow, if Joy doesn’t get a hold of herself, this could get ugly and self-centered very quickly.

Joy is missing something, and we all eventually realize that Sadness has some very special abilities that Joy lacks:

Sadness has explored the deep parts of the brain that Joy’s been too busy to deal with.  

Sadness is able to empathize with the sadness in others. 

Sadness draws people together for comfort and care. 

And this, my friends, is what Sadness is for:

it’s for connecting us deeply with ourselves,

and it’s for connecting us deeply with each other.

Tell me, isn’t connection exactly, EXACTLY what we all need today, in light of all the terrible, terrible sorrow around us?

There’s an awful tendency in our world today, when something bad happens, to head straight for the protective emotions:  anger, disgust, fear–when what we really need is the connecting emotion:  sadness.

The problem is, connecting to sadness in other people means we have to be connected to sadness in ourselves.

And that means we have to be willing to hurt.

And we don’t like that very much.

But it’s absolutely necessary, if we’re going to live lives of deep, rich meaning and not just surface happiness, that we get to know Sadness, and let it connect us to ourselves and everyone else.

Andy said, “That’s what you’re always trying to get people to do in counseling.”


That’s exactly what I’m always trying to get people to do in counseling.

Now it’s all out there in beautifully animated awesomeness.

God bless Pixar for Inside Out.

Kay Bruner
I live in the Dallas, Texas area these days, with my family where I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice.  It’s my pleasure to work with clients who need to know, like I do, that we are all loved with an everlasting love.  I also enjoy sharing my story with groups, and I am available for speaking engagements.  

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