Video: Understanding Sadness and Anger at the Holidays

Dec 23, 2020 | 0 comments

Gail Rubin spoke at Wings For LIFE International about managing grief during the holidays. Using clips from the 2015 Disney Pixar film Inside Out, she explained how anger and sadness play important roles in our emotional reactions to change and loss. The scenes she showed brilliantly illustrated the impact of sadness on our emotional reactions to change and loss.

Wings For LIFE International helps families and individuals impacted by incarceration. Their mission is Transforming Lives to Break the Generational Cycle of Incarceration. They hold weekly programs to help these individuals and their families. The talks are broadcast live on Facebook and shared later on YouTube.

Watch Gail’s Presentation

Wings For LIFE International - Managing Grief During The Holidays 12-7-20

Sadness and Anger Have a Role to Play

In “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” a TEDWomen 2017 talk by psychologist Susan David, she explained why it’s good to embrace so-called “negative” feelings. She conducted a survey of more than 70 thousand people. She found that a third of us either judge ourselves for having so-called “bad emotions,” like sadness, anger or even grief, or we actively try to push aside these feelings. In her TED talk she said:

“Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

Cartoons offer us a way to open up to the tough emotions. They also help us learn about our reactions to all kinds of losses, not just about mourning death.


Disney Pixar Inside Out emotions

Disney Pixar Inside Out emotions (L to R): Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear, and Sadness

The 2015 Disney Pixar film Inside Out introduces us to five key emotions that power our actions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. While we actually feel a wider range of emotions, the filmmakers had to limit the number of characters. This approach to our emotional makeup is based on the work of two University of California psychology professors: Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman, a renowned emotion scientist and close friend of the Dalai Lama. These five emotions, embodied as colorful characters inside the mind of an 11-year old girl named Riley, work the psyche’s control panel inside Headquarters. At the very beginning of the film, we see the roles each emotion plays in her life development.


Joy gets the greatest amount of control time, relentlessly keeping Riley happy and upbeat. She keeps Sadness away from influencing experiences, memories, and especially, the vital core memories that power Riley’s “Islands of Personality.” Her islands are Family Island, Hockey Island, Goofball Island, Friendship Island, and Honesty Island. These personality islands make Riley “Riley,” the person she is.

A move from the family home in Minnesota to San Francisco prompts a crisis. In life, our situations constantly change. Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy. However, this film helps us understand loss and what people gain when guided by feelings of sadness.


As illustrated by the film, we tend to keep sadness away from our consciousness. We don’t want to feel sad. We don’t want sadness to color our memories. Being upbeat all the time can be exhausting! Yet scientific studies indicate sadness can be a guide, helping us to recognize changes we are going through and what we have lost. Sadness can help set the stage to develop new facets of our identities.


Inside Out Anger Fear Disgust

Anger Fear and Disgust in Inside Out

Riley has a mental meltdown the first day in her new school. As a result, Joy and Sadness, along with Riley’s golden core memories, are swept out of Headquarters into the far reaches of her psyche and they must find their way back. With the core memories missing, her Islands of Personality are crumbling. Disgust, Fear, and Anger assume control of Riley’s interactions with her parents, who also have these emotional characters in their minds.

Riley becomes apathetic without Joy and Sadness in Headquarters. Anger comes up with the idea to run away back to Minnesota by bus. But once the plan is set in motion, Riley’s emotional control panel is frozen. The other emotions can’t remove the running away idea. Joy and Sadness return to Headquarters in the nick of time. When Sadness is allowed to be expressed, Riley and her parents can express their vulnerability and find understanding.


As Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman explain in “The Science of Inside Out,” a New York Times opinion column (July 5, 2015), “Inside Out offers a new approach to sadness. Its central insight: Embrace sadness, let it unfold, engage patiently with a preteen’s emotional struggles. Sadness will clarify what has been lost (childhood) and move the family toward what is to be gained: the foundations of new identities, for children and parents alike.”

Sadness and anger are not “bad” emotions. They are an integral part of who we are. As adults, the emotions work as a team, rather than having just one in control. As Riley moves toward puberty, she gets an upgraded control panel, with room for more of the emotions to operate at once.


The science behind Inside Out is available to the general public on this website, It’s a project supported by the Dalai Lama, with the goal of understanding our emotions to develop a calm mind. It’s based on the work of emotional scientist Dr. Paul Keltner and his daughter Eve Keltner, an emotional researcher. It’s designed to help ordinary individuals become aware of our emotions, understand our triggers, and develop constructive strategies in our responses. I hope you’ll visit this website and experiment with the responsive features in The Atlas of Emotions.

Inside Out is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

A Good Goodbye