Recently, I got a chance to see the latest movie from Pixar called ‘Inside Out’. It is a masterpiece in my opinion and of particular interest to anyone in my line of work because of the subject matter. It tells the story of what goes on in the brain of an 11 year old girl. The main characters are five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. Between them they navigate the world of the little girl as she experiences life. 

One of the things I loved most about the movie was the validation of sadness as a feeling. Often, in the field I am in, it can be extremely easy to dismiss sadness as being pointless and unwanted. What my screenwriting mentor Robert McKee calls ‘Negaphobia’ seems to exist not only in society in general but especially in the field of personal development. Many times I have heard of people being told to ignore the negative, cut yourself off from friends that are in any way negative, stop watching shows or movies that make you sad, never use the word ‘but’ and only ever say positive things to others.

Although I can understand the desire to eliminate too much negativity from your life and keep your mind healthy and happy by ensuring you give it a daily dose of more positive than negative ideas, this can often be overdone. To me, the more we try and avoid negativity, the more we actually give it power. ‘Negaphobia’ means that people avoid and run away from the negative and are terrified to let their minds face the bad side of life. And yet I believe that if you want to have a happy and fulfilling life you need to do the opposite.

When we read a great book or watch a great movie or even when we hear a great story, the thing that keeps us interested is conflict. The problems that the characters face. The challenges they find themselves up against. That is what gets our interest. We connect with the characters because we are goal striving beings. We aim to achieve certain things (even in some cases when the certain things are ‘staying in the present’ or ‘detaching from goals’). We function by attempting to succeed. Often that success may well be in our aim to keep our lives balanced in what we have or how we are doing.

When problems happen, they knock our lives out of balance. When problems happen, we now have an obstacle in the way of our goals. This leads to our motivation to take action. We need to correct this. We need to overcome the obstacles. We need to find a solution, somehow. In order to do so, we must become stronger or smarter. We must become better able to tackle the problem and put our lives back in order. These problems, these shattering times, these unforeseen challenges… they serve to force us to grow. They force us to become better. They enable us to become more rounded human beings. 

Of course, spend time training your mind to focus on solutions. Of course, avoid clouding your brain with continuously negative experiences. Of course, avoid allowing your default mood to be a beaten up, pessimistic sense of hopelessness about the world. But accept the negative as an inevitable part of life. In fact, do not just accept it… embrace it while you fight it. Love it for what it does for you. Learn from it. Remind yourself of the gifts it gives you. Relish it. 

Sadness is a feeling that does help us in some ways. It is okay to feel as long as it is not the default state. Being positive doesn’t mean you cannot feel down. It just means that down isn’t where you live. For it is only in feeling down that we really can appreciate what it means to feel ‘up’ and only in experiencing sadness that we can really get what it means to feel happy. 

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