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Why Disney's Inside Out makes a great case for positive psychology


Last night I went to see the latest release from Disney Pixar: Inside Out. The story starts with the question "ever wondered what's going on inside someone's head?" and then it goes on to explain, in the most fantastical way, how our emotions can control who we are and how we behave.

Yes, it is a story, and no, it is not a true depiction of how our emotions work – but it has many clever analogies that actually do point to the truth (or at least as psychologists, what we currently know as most likely to be the case). The way that long-term memory is stored, fades and is then discarded forever if the memory is not revisited, for example, is pretty accurate. Although, sadly, in our brains it probably doesn't look like brightly coloured marbles as it does in the film.

The most important point the film makes is about the ongoing relationship between the 'Joy' and 'Sadness' characters – two of the five emotion characters who interact to control our central human's behaviour (an 11 year old girl called Riley). The film starts with Joy very much being in control and an insistence on pure happiness as the only way to have a good day. This is often how positive psychology is seen, and indeed why it is criticised; if we smile, laugh and are optimistic about everything, all will be well. Joy is so concerned about sadness seeping in that she actually tries to ban Sadness from touching any 'memories' as she may taint them.

As the film's narrative continues, Riley and her family move from a beloved home and lifestyle to a new and scary city; San Francisco. Things don't go so well for Riley and she struggles to maintain her usually happy attitude. Even for those of us who haven't moved to a new place, we can all relate to the stress that comes with change and how difficult it can be to remain positive.

While many other entertaining moments happen in the film, it is the final lesson that is most poignant. (Warning: spoiler alert for those who have not seen the film). Joy realises that Sadness is actually required. Sadness shouldn't be shut away; crying about something can actually be a very healing process. And in the end, it can actually facilitate comfort and ultimately, Joy. The film ends with Riley in a much better place – creating memories that have mixed emotions attached and forming a more complete and complex picture of what being human is really about.

It's not only a wonderful film, it makes an often-missed point about positive psychology. What makes life worth living is a whole landscape of emotions – it's in understanding them that allows us to really enjoy the ride.


0 #1 Adderin Reviews 2015-08-13 08:30
Hey very interesting blog!

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