Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman served as scientific consultants during the production of Pixar's Inside Out. Keltner studies the origins of human emotion and Ekman pioneered research of microexpressions. In this NY Times piece, they discuss the science behind the movie.
Those quibbles aside, however, the movie's portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.
First, emotions organize -- rather than disrupt -- rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.
Second, emotions organize -- rather than disrupt -- our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.
I've thought about Inside Out every day since I saw it. Pixar clearly did their homework on the emotional stuff and it paid off.
"Success through failure, calm through embracing anxiety..." This book sounds perfect for me. The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman.
Self-help books don't seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth -- even if you can get it -- doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life, and work often bring as much stress as joy. We can't even agree on what "happiness" means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it the wrong way?
Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it's our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty -- the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person's guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.
I learned about the book from Tyler Cowen, who notes:
[Burkeman] is one of the best non-fiction essay writers, and he remains oddly underrated in the United States. It is no mistake to simply buy his books sight unseen. I think of this book as "happiness for grumps."
Given Cowen's recent review of Inside Out, I wonder if [slight spoilers ahoy!] he noticed the similarity of Joy's a-ha moment w/r/t to Sadness at the end of the film to the book's "alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty". Mmmm, zeitgeisty!
Ok, I'm starting to feel better about Inside Out, Pixar's upcoming animated feature that takes place mostly inside the mind of a young girl. The first trailer featured a bunch of gender stereotypes and mostly left me scratching my head, but the second trailer is solid:
2014 is the first year without a Pixar film since 2005's gap between The Incredibles and Cars. The company has two films planned for 2015 and one of them will hopefully do something about one of my long-standing pet peeves about their movies: the lack of strong women characters. Inside Out takes place inside the brain of a teenaged girl, with her emotions as the main characters.
The film's real protagonist is Joy (voiced by an effervescent Amy Poehler), one of five emotions who steer Riley through life via a control center in her mind that's akin to the bridge from the Starship Enterprise. Joy and her cohorts -- including Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) -- all work together to keep Riley emotionally balanced, and for the first 11 years of her life, the primary influencer is Joy, as evidenced by Riley's sunny demeanor.
But as adolescence sets in, Joy finds her lead role usurped. Suddenly, Sadness wants to pipe in at inappropriate times -- coaxing Riley to cry during her first day at a new school, for instance -- and as the two emotions jostle for control, both of them fall into the deepest reaches of Riley's mind and have to work their way back. Meanwhile, left to their own devices, Fear, Disgust, and Anger collude to transform Riley into a moody preteen.
Holy cow, that sounds great.