© Michelle Chan
*Disclaimer: Spoiler Alert!*
This movie is great for children and adults of all ages, in that it's applicable to anyone and everyone. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, we all have feelings. Some we are open to feeling, and some we rather ignore. Many times, feelings of "happiness, excitement, joy" are considered "good," whereas feelings of "sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger" are considered "bad." However, feelings are feelings. They are neither good, nor bad.
Joy tried her best to keep Riley happy at all times, even when something distressing has occurred (i.e. losing a hockey game, moving to a new city, etc.). Despite Joy's best efforts, some things were out of her control. It was not until Joy realized that when Riley is allowed to fully feel a range of emotions, that it is then she is most happy. It was in times of sadness that Riley then had the chance to draw upon the support of those around her, leading her to feel cared for and loved by her parents and friends.
After the family moved to San Francisco, Riley's mother commented on how glad she was that Riley was able to continue being her happy little girl, especially in the midst of the stress both her and Riley's father were experiencing. While most parents/caregivers would agree that seeing their child(ren) be happy is important, by stating it aloud, Riley's mother has placed a request on Riley to continue to appear to be happy, even if she may not be. Children, like Riley, then learn that to make their parents happy, they must present themselves as being happy, which robs children and parents the opportunity to really connect and have an open dialogue on what may be going on under the surface. It was when Riley broke down and cried in front of her parents at the end that finally helped her parents understand that what was more important than Riley appearing to be happy, was that she can share her feelings openly with them so that they can support her in working through the difficulties she was experiencing.
Trying to be happy 24/7 is not only an unrealistic goal, because external factors are bound to occur that are out of our control (i.e. loss of loved ones, disappointments, etc.), but also harmful. The pressure to be happy at all times, and the belief that it is attainable, makes feeling anything else a deviation from what is "expected" and "normal." While feelings of happiness may be desired, at times it is not possible, and that is okay! We are all human, and in the face of difficulties and challenges, it is only normal that we feel emotions that reflect what we are experiencing in life. What's most important is not trying to feel happy all the time, but our ability to cope when distressing feelings come up, and our willingness to reach out and seek support when needed.