Thanks to science, we know that the brain does not finish developing until around 25 years old. With this we know that most of our core beliefs are formulated before 25, with few major changes thereafter without something drastic influencing those beliefs. What we don’t talk about very often is how those core beliefs are driven by feelings that we believe at our core.
Many of you are familiar with the movie Inside Out. This movie is such a powerful display of how this unfolds, passively demonstrating how Riley’s main driver was joy, but her parents’ drivers were sadness and anger. In real life it isn’t that simple, we know this. None of us are simple. But what this does illustrate for us is how we have what I call “emotional leanings.”
If I am to be completely transparent, I would have to tell you that sadness drives me. This is where optimism and pessimism have to go out the window. It’s not that simple. Sadness is not unhealthy or sacrilegious. Just because someone leans toward sadness, does not mean they do not also experience joy. These are not mutually exclusive, and I want to elaborate on this.
Generally speaking, we feel emotions on two levels: there are the feelings that drive us, and the feelings we choose. I confess that I am driven by sadness, but what does that really mean? That means I was kissed by sadness in such a profound way while I was young and impressionable. When I look at the world, I first see the hurting, the depressed, the death, loss and misery. I am sensitive to spiritual warfare and I stand toe to toe with evil regularly. I am on the front lines of sadness, that does not mean I am controlled by it.
So how does this work? Like I mentioned before, we have the feelings we are driven by and the feelings we choose. So what do I do with the feelings I am driven by? Well I have a few options: 1. Be overcome by them, 2. be indifferent to them, 3. be motivated by them. Let me break this down.
1. Be overcome by them:
My driver is sadness, but I’ll illustrate how this may look from multiple drivers. If someone with anger was overcome by their driver, they would choose bullying, they would choose a harsh tone, they would CHOOSE to feel angry when given the opportunity. Someone overcome with disgust might choose to carry strong biases, might choose/justify being judgmental. Someone overcome with sadness would choose hopelessness, choose sorrow, or choose depression (. (Note: this is not the same as the chemical imbalance known as depression, stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this.)
2. Being indifferent to them:
Someone driven by fear may choose to ignore their fear leanings and push them down. This may look like overcompensating to pretend they don’t feel fear so they justify making extra risky/safe choices. It could look like a joyful person who wants to seem low key and blend in with their peers.
3. Being motivated by them:
People motivated by their driving emotions can use them to move forward in life, to make contributions or change. Someone motivated by disgust feels driven to squash injustice and bias. People motivated by fear are driven to create safer environments and protect the vulnerable. People driven by anger want to confront conflict and find resolutions.
Now that we have established some of the differences between driving and choosing, let me elaborate on my own driver and choices.
There have been times in my life when my choices and thoughts led to a depression which overcame me and I felt paralyzed in sadness. As I mentioned above, I do not mean the chemical imbalance; I mean the times that I had a choice, and complete sadness deflated me. As someone who battles depression as well, I am aware of the difference. There are times when my body does not give me a choice about how I feel, but I known I can still seek counsel or guidance and act in a healthy way from there. As we saw in Inside Out, Joy realized that Sadness is actually the catalyst that brought Riley joy many times. Because I see hurt, depression, death, loss and misery with such precision and empathy, I am able to help myself and others find healing, hope, life, newness and joy. It’s not about who drives you, it’s about what you choose to do.
In our society, we glorify Joy as a driver. Optimism and positivity are seen as healthy. Don’t get me wrong, we need these drivers, desperately… but joy doesn’t have it’s foot in the door of those who are afraid. Joy doesn’t have sway with those who are angry. We need motivation, not a new core perspective. My sadness has impacted the world 1000 times more than my forced joy did. Joy is not my driver, and appreciating my sadness for what it is has helped me thrive and celebrate my victories. My sadness is a shaker and a doer.
As a culture we have trouble with this perspective, because we don’t use these words in an empowering way. Scripturally, for example, we are commanded to be joyful in all circumstances. Guess what? You can be. Joy is a CHOICE for all of us, even those who feel joy at their core. I know and love many people who feel joy at their core, and you know what I can see? They sometimes struggle to process their temporary sadness, fear, anger and disgust. Is joy truly a “choice” if you feel confined to it? In these cases, one must feel those other emotions so they can pursue the joy that is on the other side. Be joyful in all circumstances? Pro tip: One must first acknowledge the circumstance in order to choose joy in it.
Do you know who drives you? Are you overcome, indifferent, or motivated?
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”