Doctrine(s): Sadness is necessary to comprehending Joy. Opposition in emotion can also lead us to knowledge and understanding. Feeling sad is not evil or sinful, it is natural and necessary. All of our emotions, when properly utilized and controlled, act on our behalf to lead us to Joy. We should not allow Sadness (or any other emotion) to become a fixed state; it should be a stepping stone back to Joy.
I’m not sure how many of you have seen the Disney Movie “Inside Out”. But, owing to the fact that I have a young toddler at home who absolutely loves the movie and can watch it start to finish without blinking, I get to see it a lot. Strangely, it’s not one of those movies that’s easy to get tired of. Let me tell you why.
Each and every time I watch the movie Inside Out I see more and more subtle truths being revealed in grand splendor. To me they are like little nuggets of “real life doctrine” that teach important, yet simple, truths that help us understand life and get through it just a bit better.
The first doctrine seems to be the main plot of the movie. That is that sadness is necessary in life, it’s okay to feel sad, and that sadness is necessary often times to arrive at pure joy and happiness. There needs to be an opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11) and indeed, even the omniscient, omnipotent God of heaven still experiences sorrow and weeps (Moses 7:28-33). That’s how important it is.
When the movie begins, Joy doesn’t understand the purpose of sadness. And, in her lack of understanding, she tries to save Riley from Sadness. Sadness is the initial enemy. Even though Riley has been subjected to a major, life-changing event (moving), Joy seems determined that Riley (the character) can proceed forward with life without any emotional impact.
At the beginning of the movie, after Riley has moved to her new house, Sadness begins feeling compelled by the difficult impact of the move to touch memories, fix things, and take control of the console. This compulsion, as Riley reacts to the move and change, is natural. But Joy doesn’t understand that. Indeed, she and the other emotions are sort of in a panic. Then, Riley’s first day of school produces the first ever sad core memory. Joy is so upset by this change she does everything she can to stop the sad core memory from becoming part of Riley’s islands of personality.
Joy, who doesn’t understand the need for Sadness, tries to prevent Riley from it. Because of Joy’s panic, and in her attempts to stop the sad core memory from being put in the core memory slot, she causes both she and Sadness, and all the core memories, to be sucked up into the tube that takes memories to Long Term Memory. Once they’re stranded down there, Joy blames Sadness for their descent from headquarters, but it was actually Joy who was to blame. Joy was so adamant that Riley (the character) not have Sadness in her life that she caused the whole malfunction.
Now, I don’t mean to be hard on Joy. But, the reality is that we all do what she does. We try to have Joy without Sadness. We often try to ignore Sadness or prolong it affecting us. We try to push Sadness to a corner and hope to avoid it. And yet, just like the movie, by not letting Sadness have its place in our lives we cause the opposite of our true desires: significant lack of Joy and a great deal of mental, emotional, and psychological malfunction.
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteous could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).
Here’s another interesting doctrine the movie teaches. If Joy were not balanced with Sadness then we would also remain ignorant and be kept from greater happiness. This is illustrated by Joy as she tries to occupy Sadness with mind manuals to get Sadness out of the way, so she (Joy) can keep Riley happy. Then, when the two of them finally do get stranded down in Long Term Memory, Joy doesn’t know anything about where to go or what to do, how to get back to headquarters, what dangers to avoid, or anything. She’s clearly never read the mind manuals herself; likely this is because it wasn’t fun, or because of her positive outlook she kept planning to get around to it eventually. She’s so uninformed that she misses the fact that the mind workers send a memory up to headquarters through a recall tube and yet she doesn’t think to send the core memories she’s carrying up that way. Or, it may also be that her natural selfish bent to “I can fix everything and keep Riley happy” throughout the movie may have blinded her to the idea of not being present to present the core memories and fix Riley herself. So, instead of sending them up to headquarters without her, she plunges onward.
Joy, alone, can often be selfish. Joy, by itself, often procrastinates the necessary drudgeries of life that when embraced lead to greater amounts of Joy. But Joy tends to live for the moment; which is the type of thing that often leads to more sorrow, not more Joy.
The next instance we see Joy’s ignorance is in her inability to comfort Bing Bong after he loses his wagon. Joy wants to ignore his pain and disappointment. She tries to make him laugh, or play a fake game to get him to do what she wants. She sees no point in taking time to be sad so she tries to bypass it. This makes Joy seem a bit insensitive and unkind, which Joy can be when not balanced with other emotions. Then again, we see Joy’s inability to succeed in waking Riley up from sleep with happy dreams because she thinks that only happiness can solve problems.
Thankfully, this continued struggle is slowed when Joy begins to trust Sadness. Sadness helps them get into the subconscious. Sadness helps Joy to see that scaring Riley was the only way to wake her up. But, then, yet again, when Joy thinks she’s found a way back to headquarters through a larger recall tube, she won’t let Sadness come too because Sadness’s presence is turning the core memories sad. This return to thinking Sadness is bad for Riley is Joy’s final downfall. She ends up in The Dump.
Joy only begins to understand Sadness’s true purpose while in The Dump. She realizes that Riley’s sadness is what allowed people to come to her aid in the past. She also sees that Sadness was also the precursor to one of Riley’s happiest moments! At last Joy understands.
So often, each of us thinks that Sadness is an evil thing. That we should never feel sad. That we should feel bad about ourselves if we can’t feel super happy each day. Even when life’s is throwing big things at us like: job changes, moves, financial struggles, relationship issues, crises of faith, and more; we think there is something wrong with us if we can’t paste on a smile.
I’m not saying that people don’t suffer with anxiety or depression that doesn’t need to be treated. Modern medicines are so helpful and often necessary. But I am saying that as Latter-day Saints, we often misinterpret, “…and if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…” to mean that we have to pretend to be happy in difficult times and avoid the natural dips into sadness (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8). Being at peace is a form of happiness and joy. But, it does not mean we can’t have days where we feel sad, sorrowful, or depressed when the weight of life is upon us. It doesn’t mean we don’t pray for, cry for, and hope for the end of some struggles and transitions. It does mean that we don’t lose faith and that we press on with or without a smile. But, though we should try to remember our blessings, to count them, and to serve others, it doesn’t mean that being sad is wrong or bad.
Sadness leads us to seek help from God when we are down. Sadness is a precursor to humility and seeking knowledge and comfort. Guilt for sin—a form of regret and sadness—leads us to seek repentance. Sorrow from the consequences of unwise choices leads us to make wiser choices. And so on.
In fact, it is those depths of sadness and sorrow to which we sink which make rising out of them into glorious blessings, relief, forgiveness, and answers so sharp, beautiful, clear, fresh, and transcendent. Well did Eve say, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth to all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). If it were not for the lows, the highs would not feel so high. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).
Having been down to plenty of sad lows myself, I can testify that the joys are far more rich than they ever could have been had the lows never come. Contrast is a true teacher.
The rest of the doctrines in the movie Inside Out are much more subtle. For instance, one time that I was watching Inside Out, I was struck by the fact that the other emotions (aside from Joy) didn’t seem to resent the fact that Joy did most of the driving. She was acknowledged and accepted as the PRIMARY DRIVER. Indeed, the other emotions only came into play when they wanted to return Riley to a happy state. Disgust drove when she wanted to keep Riley from eating broccoli. But, when the vegetable was avoided, Disgust stepped aside and let Joy resume driving. When Riley was threatened with losing her dessert Anger stepped in to provide the impetus for Riley to complain so that her happiness could be restored by getting dessert. Fear stepped in only to keep Riley from hurting herself, then immediately stepped aside. On Riley’s first day of school, when Joy suggested that she drive the console all day, not one of the other emotions seemed to feel shafted or left out. Why? Because, it occurred to me, that the purpose of all the emotions is to help Riley to be happy. Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust play their roles to help Riley have Joy. It is not a matter of equality in time driving or in importance.
The doctrine: all of our emotions, when properly understood, utilized, and controlled, play a necessary part in helping us achieve Joy.
Now, when the other emotions were left to drive without Joy and Sadness, the excess of Anger, Fear, and Disgust put Riley’s life into crisis. She made poor decisions that while they led her to action, that action was not going to lead to actual happiness. So, though our emotions try to protect our happiness they must be trained to understand what true happiness is. Losing out on dessert can teach us to eat healthy which in the long run will lead to greater happiness, etc.
The doctrine: when our emotions/passions are not properly understood and controlled, they try to bring us happiness, but their excessive responses can lead us to more Fear, Anger, and Disgust.
So, all in all, it’s amazing how much doctrine one cartoon can contain. You wouldn’t think you’d read a blog article telling you it’s okay to be sad. But it is okay. It is not bad. It is not a sin.
Yet, while I do encourage the notion that Sadness is necessary and most certainly okay. We must all still exercise our agency and not allow Sadness to engulf us. Sadness has a place. It is meant to help us get help. It is meant to help us comprehend true Joy and feel true gratitude. It is meant to lead us to self-evaluate and act to climb back up to Joy. To let Sadness overwhelm us is just as ineffective as letting any other emotion mindless control.
(P.S. Sadness is my favorite character!)