Susan Cain’s New Book Explores the Question: What Is Sadness Good For?

In 2010, celebrated Pixar director Pete Docter determined to make an animated movie in regards to the wild and woolly feelings of an 11-year-old woman named Riley. He knew the tough outlines of the story he wished to inform. The movie would open with Riley, uprooted from her Minnesota hometown and plunked down in a brand new home and college in San Francisco, whereas additionally caught within the emotional storm of incoming adolescence.

Thus far, so good. However Docter confronted a artistic puzzle. He wished to depict Riley’s emotions as lovable animated characters operating a management heart in her mind, shaping her reminiscences and day by day life. However which emotions? Psychologists informed him that now we have as much as 27 completely different feelings. However you possibly can’t inform a superb story about so many various characters. Docter wanted to slender it down, and to select one emotion as the principle protagonist.

He thought of just a few completely different feelings for the starring position, then determined to position Worry on the heart of the film, alongside Pleasure; partly, he says, as a result of Worry is humorous. 

However three years into the event of the movie—with the dialogue already carried out, the film partially animated, the gags with Worry already in place, a few of them “fairly impressed”—he realized that one thing was improper. Docter was scheduled to display screen the movie in progress for Pixar’s government workforce. And he was positive it was a failure. The third act didn’t work. Based on the movie’s narrative arc, Pleasure ought to have realized an awesome lesson. However Worry had nothing to show her.

At that time in his profession, Docter had loved two mega-successes—Up and Monsters, Inc. However he began to really feel positive that these hits have been flukes.

 “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he thought. “I ought to simply give up.”

His thoughts spun into darkish daydreams of a post-Pixar future by which he’d misplaced not solely his job but additionally his profession. He went into preemptive mourning. The considered dwelling outdoors his treasured neighborhood of creatives and enterprise mavericks made him really feel he was drowning—in Unhappiness. And the extra despondent he grew, the extra he realized how a lot he beloved his colleagues.

Which led to his epiphany: The true cause for his feelings—for all our feelings—is to attach us. And Unhappiness, of all of the feelings, was the final word bonding agent.

All through this course of, Docter had an unlikely ally: Dacher Keltner, an influential College of California, Berkeley psychology professor. Docter had referred to as in Keltner to teach him and his colleagues on the science of feelings. They turned shut associates. Keltner’s daughter was struggling the slings and arrows of adolescence similtaneously Docter’s, and the 2 males bonded over vicarious angst. Keltner taught Docter and his workforce the capabilities of every main emotion: Worry retains you protected. Anger protects you from getting taken benefit of. And Unhappiness—what does Unhappiness do?

Keltner had defined that Unhappiness triggers compassion. It brings individuals collectively. It helps you see simply how a lot your neighborhood of quirky Pixar filmmakers means to you.

The chief workforce authorized the concept, and Docter and his workforce rewrote the film—which in the end gained the Oscar for Finest Animated Function and was the best grossing authentic movie in Pixar historical past—with Unhappiness within the starring position.


One of many cornerstones of Keltner’s analysis, which he summarized in his e-book Born to Be Good, is what he calls “the compassionate intuition”—the concept that we people are wired to reply to one another’s troubles with care. Our nervous methods make little distinction between our personal ache and the ache of others, it seems; they react equally to each. This intuition is as a lot part of us as the need to eat and breathe.

The compassionate intuition can be a elementary side of the human success story—and one of many nice powers of bittersweetness. The phrase compassion actually means “to undergo collectively,” and Keltner sees it as one among our greatest and most redemptive qualities. The disappointment from which compassion springs is a pro-social emotion, an agent of connection and love; it’s what the musician Nick Cave calls “the common unifying pressure.” Sorrow and tears are one of many strongest bonding mechanisms now we have.

These findings inform us that our impulse to reply to different beings’ disappointment sits in the identical location as our must breathe, digest meals, reproduce and defend our infants; in the identical place as our want to be rewarded and to get pleasure from life’s pleasures. They inform us, as Keltner defined to me, that “caring is correct on the coronary heart of human existence. Unhappiness is about caring. And the mom of disappointment is compassion.”

Copyright © 2022 by Susan Cain. All rights reserved. Printed in america by Crown, an imprint of Random Home, a division of Penguin Random Home LLC, New York. Picture by Bricolage/Shutterstock

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