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The joy of 56

I was in my fifties before I got my head around happiness. What took me so long?

Me, aged 56 and six hours last week – grey streaks, a lot of freckles and fine with it

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This is going to sound ludicrous, but I don’t think I fully got what happiness was until I watched the Pixar film Inside Out in 2015. Yep, embarrassingly I was 49-years-old before I really understood the concept. And I had to have it explained to me by a kids' film. Albeit a sophisticated one. And happiness wasn't the only emotion that applied to… Stay with me, this is actually all about my birthday last week, my 56th to be precise.

If you haven’t seen Inside Out, let me fill you in. Like all Pixar films it's not a complicated premise, just a simple and utterly identifiable story about a tweenage girl, Riley, and the five emotions that govern her – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – and how they learn to coexist. Joy is the boss, she can’t bear Sadness being all sad and mucking things up (if you're the family fixer, the one who runs around trying to make sure everything's OK and everyone is happy happy happy, you are basically Joy). So when Riley’s parents selfishly force her to move house and school, landing her on the other side of the country with no friends and no life, Sadness and Joy end up having to work together to stop Riley’s world collapsing, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust to hold the fort. (You can imagine how well that works out.)

I was lucky enough to go to a press screening and afterwards interviewed Amy Poehler who voiced Joy, but that wasn’t what I took away from the afternoon. What I took away was: Wow! We have five emotions?! Five! I don't know how many I thought we had. One? Two? Broadly 'Up' and 'Down', ranging on a continuum from Yes! Air Punch through stress and frustration to Screw This. With life mostly spent balancing precariously in the middle. And when the balance tipped, the journey from A to B was never a long one, for me at least. An old boss once described me to a new boss as a person who wouldn’t bend but who, if pushed too far, would snap. I was enraged at the time, how dare he? But he was right. I went so far as to prove him right by doing just that.

Anyway, back to Inside Out and the emotional motherboard. (Btw, all the characters have them and it's worth watching for those alone.) I was 49, peri-menopausal and had recently started therapy. Armed with my new-found understanding of “emotions” 😂 I couldn’t wait to tell my therapist T about my discovery. So I was deflated when she was instantly dismissive about the film. It’s so simplistic! She said scathingly. Five emotions! How can you possibly distil emotions down to five!

Wait, what? There are more?!

Mind. Blown.

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