It was an overcast summer evening in San Francisco and Riley Andersen was upstairs in her room, staring out her window dreamily as the rain softly beat against the glass while she listened to some music playing from her stereo.
It had been a hot and humid Sunday in mid-July and the news forecast had predicted thunderstorms developing later that evening, (much to Fear's dismay!) and the teen was looking forward to watching some lightning as she always found this natural phenomenon fascinating and beautiful.
Just as long as she was safely indoors when the lightning began and not stuck outside where there was the risk of being fatally struck by the very thing she was hoping to see…
Inside Headquarters, Sadness was watching the monitor with the same dreamy expression on her round blue face as her young host. The little blue Emotion loved watching the rain…because she was constantly feeling a bit down, she found the sight and sound of rain soothing and comforting in her own unique way. In fact, she derived the same amount of pleasure from watching rain as anyone else would in say…looking at a beautiful sunset on the beach?
Anger was sitting on the pink sofa near the console with his face buried in the daily edition of the Mind Reader. The red Emotion would let out an occasional grunt and grumble something incoherent to himself whenever he came across a topic in his newspaper that he deemed unfair or detrimental to Riley's daily life in one way or another. But so far, he was keeping his explosive temper relatively under control…
Disgust was standing near the reading section of the main room with her makeup mirror in one hand and a stick of mascara in the other as she expertly re-applied her makeup. Since Riley wasn't doing anything remotely interesting at the moment and seemed content to stare pointlessly at the rain outside, the green Emotion seized the opportunity to tend to some self-preening.
Fear was cowering in the corner and muttering incessantly about the dangers of thunderstorms and why anyone would enjoy looking at lightning when it could destroy a house with one strike or worse…actually kill a person if you weren't vigilant enough! But his warnings seemed to fall on deaf ears as no one was paying him the slightest bit of attention and eventually the purple Emotion reluctantly gave up on his lecturing and decided to fix himself a relaxing cup of tea to soothe his frayed nerves.
That only left Joy…
The normally cheerful and upbeat Lead Emotion was nowhere to be seen in the main room with her coworkers. Instead she was up in her private sleeping quarters, easing herself into her favorite chair with an exhausted sigh.
She had prepared a little foot spa for herself on the floor and slowly, she put her aching feet into the warm, soothing water. Usually she could be found dancing around energetically and jumping from joy even when the circumstances were not always a cause for celebration, and through her sheer exuberance and spirited antics she tended to lift the moods of everyone around her; be it Riley or her fellow Emotions.
But lately Joy had not been feeling her usual cheerful self and she didn't want the other Emotions to notice the recent changes in her personality. So she decided it was better if she distanced herself from the others while she tried to come to grips with her sudden decline in…well joyfulness.
Besides everyone is already busy helping Riley adjust to her new life since moving to San Francisco a few months ago, and Joy didn't want them to get distracted from their duties by worrying about her as well.
But truth be told, Joy found herself struggling with her contributions to Riley more and more now that their girl was growing up and maturing.
Everything is happening so fast… the Lead Emotion mused sullenly as she stared at her feet with despair.
What is happening to me? I should be there to ensure Riley stays happy and positive all day every day! But something is changing and I feel like I can't keep up! Why can't things be the way they were when Riley was younger…?
Joy smiled fondly to herself and her blue eyes got a faraway look as she remembered those innocent, happy years when Riley was little…
It seems like only yesterday that Riley was a high-spirited five year old with a huge smile constantly on her face as she found amazement and wonder in everything around her! For instance, she would giggle endlessly as she chased butterflies in their yard back in Minnesota.
Or what about those windy days in late fall, when Dad used to rake the autumn leaves into big piles on the front yard and Riley would wait eagerly until he finished raking and then squeal with delight as she ran and threw herself into the biggest piles, scattering Dad's hard work in all directions!
Even the smallest things, like watching a ladybug walk across her hand would send Riley into bouts of laughter as the tiny beetle's feet tickled her hand!
And it wasn't only Riley who seemed to find joy in everything back in those days…
Joy smiled sadly and wiped a small tear from the corner of her eye as she remembered how all the other kids used to play in the street from sunrise to sunset on the weekends and how they all had smiles of delight on their faces.
Where did those blissful days of innocence go? The yellow Emotion thought with a little sigh of yearning. She sniffled and a quiet sob escaped from her throat as she wiped away her tears.
Now more than ever, she was grateful that she was alone in her room. She is the very personification of happiness and when she cried, it seemed to fill all those around her with such intense grief that it felt as though their hearts were breaking. Joy hated seeing her friends this way, especially when their pain was brought on as a result of her actions (however unintentional those actions may have been).
But sometimes she just couldn't help herself, and right now was one of those times. Joy longed for those happy, carefree days of Riley's childhood with such intensity, that it felt like her heart would burst from yearning.
Okay. Pull yourself together Joy…she chided herself half-heartedly. You are supposed to stay happy for Riley's sake and not be crying like a poor impersonator of Sadness!
Yet, those were the happiest days in Riley's life. Back then being the Lead Emotion was a breeze and Joy would give anything to have those moments again…
Back when Riley was little, Joy had been so confident in her abilities that she was essentially the driving force behind everything Riley did. The other Emotions all contributed whenever it was necessary, but they were more like back-seat drivers and it was Joy that had the biggest role to play in Riley's day-to-day life.
And boy did she revel in her duties!
Although she was in a sense stealing the spotlight, the others never showed any feelings of jealousy towards their yellow coworker. It was like an unspoken agreement: Joy was Riley's first Emotion, therefore she was destined to be the Lead Emotion forever. They all acknowledged her leadership from the outset and up till now, Joy herself never gave it much thought either. She knew that with leadership comes great responsibility and she had spent her entire life weaving a sort of magical web of protection and happiness around their girl that she believed would last forever.
But lately it seemed as if that web was slowly breaking apart and Joy felt as if her time as Lead Emotion was slowly beginning to break away too. And it wasn't just the changes in Riley that had prompted these feelings of self-doubt inside the once confident Emotion…Joy couldn't help noticing that the world in general seems to be losing that special magic that makes people kinder to each other and to the planet.
There are some exceptions of course…
Joy smiled sweetly as she thought about the lovely old lady that lives next door to the Andersen's in the house to their right; Mrs. O'Leary with her three beloved cats and that huge smile of contentment that is always to be found on her wrinkly face. It seems like the simplest pleasures in life are enough for dear old Mrs. O'Leary…she lives alone but has her cats for company and she could spend hours in front of the TV watching "I Love Lucy" re-runs.
Because she hardly ever leaves the house, many kids in Riley's school think she's weird and call her a "Crazy Cat Lady" and stay well away from her. But ever since they moved here, Riley discovered what a kind and sweet-natured person her elderly neighbor actually is.
Mrs. O'Leary would always wave and say hello to Riley from her balcony whenever she walked past her house to school every day and she even offered her some of those tasty treats that she loved to bake. The kind old lady was a little on the heavy side, and she had bad arthritis in her hip so she couldn't walk very far even with the aid of her walking stick.
So Riley decided to repay her for her kindness by dropping by every now and then and asking her neighbor if she needed anything from the store that she could get for her. These offers always resulted in Riley getting a huge bear-hug of gratitude from Mrs. O'Leary, and it seems that even her cats had taken to Riley's friendship as they would often come out from the doorway and rub up affectionately against her legs.
Upon returning with whatever groceries her neighbor had requested, Riley would be rewarded with a tray full of delicious cakes or other sweet treats that were baked earlier in the day. Whereas Riley would thank the old lady and help herself to one or two mouth-watering treats, Mrs. O'Leary would laugh graciously and proceed to polish off the rest herself (which showed on her figure but at least she always stayed happy nonetheless!)
As Joy thought about that sweet old lady, she couldn't help marveling at how some people are so lucky to remain happy their whole lives. Clearly Mrs. O'Leary's Joy must be one motivated Emotion!
And Mrs. O'Leary is not the only example of true happiness Joy has seen recently. She recalled a few weeks ago when Riley had watched a cooking show on TV featuring a celebrity soap star and how that young man had oozed exuberance. In fact he reminded Joy a lot of herself back when she was feeling happy and carefree…throughout the whole show the bubbly young man never stopped skipping around the kitchen and giving his fellow participants high-fives while the Head Chef barked orders grumpily at them.
How on Earth has his Joy managed to remain so successful? Joy mused with a hint of envy.
But lately Joy has been seeing fewer and fewer happy faces wherever Riley goes and this has led to an intriguing and somewhat depressing thought forming in the back of her mind: is it possible that most people are born with Joy as their Lead Emotion, but then as they grow older and they are faced with the challenges of adult life, a change of Emotional leadership becomes inevitable?
Could her position as Riley's Lead Emotion be coming to an end even now? Throughout her whole life she believed that her role as leader was permanent. But what if the time comes when she is forced to step down and let one of the others take her place? And if so, then which Emotion would become Riley's new leader?
Joy admired and respected each of her coworkers just as much as they appeared to respect her. But still the thought of no longer being Riley's Lead Emotion filled her with despair. It's not that she didn't think Sadness, Fear, Disgust or Anger would make poor leaders…she just wanted their girl to stay happy as long as possible and she didn't know how that would be possible if any of the others were to become the new leader.
The yellow Emotion let out a deep sigh and shook her head sadly. Was it selfish of her to assume that none of the other Emotions would make a better leader than her? What gave her the right to judge any of their potentials when really, none of them had ever gotten the chance to prove themselves in that context?
Joy knew deep down that she was the biggest reason behind that. Although she allowed them all to do their jobs, she tended to intervene and meddle with their work whenever she felt that their influences were causing Riley emotional distress, even if the circumstances called for their skills instead of her own.
In fact, her reluctance to allow Sadness to do her job in the not-too-distant past, was what led to Riley losing her Core Memories in the first place, and had she and Sadness failed to make amends and retrieve those crucial memories, then who knows what would have become of their girl right now?
This was the biggest mistake Joy had ever made in her entire life. As Lead Emotion she really should have known better and she felt that she could never forgive herself for that. Had she been a little less possessive of the controls and just let Sadness do her job like she was supposed to, then none of that would ever have happened! As Emotions they all have their purpose and they need to work in harmony with each other to ensure the mental welfare of their host.
All this time Joy believed that by hogging the console and allowing only minimal input from the others, she was doing Riley some huge favor…she wanted Riley to feel nothing but happiness all the time. But this was not only unrealistic, it was incredibly selfish of her and in a sense she achieved nothing other than elevating her own importance over those of her fellow Emotions.
What kind of a leader does that to her friends? The others all look up to her for guidance and trust her to make the right decisions at the end of the day, but she had failed them! This depressing thought brought on another bout of tears and this time, Joy didn't even bother to wipe them away. She sat there looking like a former shadow of herself, staring in utter misery at her feet and letting the tears stream freely down her cheeks and drip onto her lap.
Lately she felt as if all the joyful stuffing had been kicked out of her by the events of everyday life and there was no longer any doubt in her mind…she was in a state of deep depression and she couldn't get herself out of it without the help of her friends.
But why should they help me? She wondered to herself dejectedly. After the way I have treated them in the past, I don't deserve their kindness and sympathy!
Lately, Joy felt like her coworkers' characteristics had become her alter-ego. She has become like a sponge, absorbing all their traits and venting those feelings onto herself: Sometimes she would get unbelievably sad, like she was now.
At other moments, she would become so angry at herself that she started mentally beating herself up, getting so frustrated with her inability to let go of past events that she truly hated herself. This in turn would lead to her feeling disgusted with herself for allowing such thoughts from ever entering her mind.
But most of all, she was afraid. She felt powerless and scared of what was happening to her and the fact that she wasn't coping. More than anything, she was afraid of moving forward…of letting go of the past and accepting the changes taking place in her life now in the present.
But it was the future that scared her the most, a so-called fear of the unknown as well as the increasingly likely possibility that she may not be Riley's Lead Emotion forever like she had promised to be.
And so what if you're no longer Riley's Lead Emotion! The reasoning side of Joy's mind scolded her as she tried to snap out of her self-pity.
Get a grip of yourself Joy! Being in charge is not the most important thing in the world…being there for Riley when she needs you to make her feel happy should be your biggest concern! Even the President doesn't remain in charge forever! Only dictators do…and you're not a dictator are you Joy?!
Joy let out a little laugh of exasperation. She realized just how desperate she must be when her own conscience started yelling at her! But she had to admit, her inner voice had a valid point.
"I know I could be controlling in the past, but surely I'm not that bossy!" Joy said to herself aloud half-jokingly.
The nagging voice inside her head remained silent as if to say: Are you really sure about that…?
Joy sighed in defeat and mumbled, "Great. Now even my conscience has abandoned me…I must have really hit rock-bottom when I don't even want to talk to myself!"
Suddenly the voiced piped up again, and it did not sound impressed.
There you go again! Feeling sorry for yourself instead of getting off your butt and trying to do something about the situation! Seriously Joy, how can you expect to help Riley when you can't even help yourself?! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!
Joy winced and looked to the floor guiltily. It turns out her conscience is not afraid of giving her a piece of its mind… (Or is she just giving herself a piece of her own mind?)
"Okay…Joy you have officially lost your marbles!" She said to herself without humor.
"But my inner self is definitely right about one thing…I DO need help from the others if I am going to get through this with my sanity in one piece!"
Joy sat up straighter in her chair and a flash of her former determination passed through her eyes.
"This dilemma cannot be fixed in one night, by one Emotion." She nodded in understanding and the corner of her mouth twitched as an insecure smile briefly appeared on her face. Already she was formulating a plan in her mind about what she needed to do, but she was still feeling slightly hesitant and unsure.
"Riley has her last week of school before summer break starts, so she will be feeling relaxed and content around this time. That means the other Emotions won't be as busy at the console throughout the day as usual, so this would be the perfect opportunity to take action and seek their advice."
Joy let out a genuine laugh, (the first true laugh of happiness that she uttered in weeks) and said jokingly, "After all, Rome wasn't built in a day and not by one person!"
"Yes. I will approach each of the others individually and talk to them one-on-one about what's been troubling me and maybe they can each help me in their own unique ways?" She said this last part with uncertainty as though she was still feeling doubtful that they would want to help her.
But she quickly pushed the thought aside and reassured herself, "What am I saying? They're my friends! They have always stood by me in the past even when I was guilty of making the wrong decisions…and if any of them were in my position right now I know I would try to help them without question!"
She smiled warmly and said, "We are a team all working together to help Riley through life. And if any one member of that team is struggling and making mistakes, then the whole group will suffer. I have faith that the other Emotions can help me get through this dilemma and who knows? One of them might be a future leader in the making…"
"And when the time comes for me to step down from my position as Lead Emotion…" Joy promised sadly but with sincerity in her voice, "I will always be there to support and offer guidance to the new leader whoever they may be."
Suddenly the previously grumpy voice that had been complaining inside her head, returned. And this time it sounded more familiar and full of optimism just like Joy in her normal, uplifting self:
That's what I'm talking about! Team work! Team effort! Come on Joy…You can do this!
I know some of you may be reading this and thinking: "Wow…Joy is really depressed and why would she be believing that her role as Lead Emotion is ending? Also where is the romance that was mentioned in the story summary?"
Okay. First things first: I decided to write this story about Joy's insecurities about being the leader because I was thinking the other day about how most people seem to be born happy – that is if you look at babies and young children you will usually notice they are always laughing and having fun (apart from the occasional moments when they are throwing tantrums or having a cry…those are glimpses of Anger and Sadness…)
My point being that small kids tend to be happier more than adults more often. Now if we turn to "Inside Out" for inspiration, you could say that most children are born with Joy as their Lead Emotion (I think I may have been as well, but now that I am 25 years old I believe there has been a change of Emotional leadership and I feel like Fear or Sadness are mainly in control…)
So is it possible that as people get older and their lifestyles change, that maybe they no longer can have Joy as their dominant Emotion? Going back to the movie, think about Riley's parents: Jill's Lead Emotion is Sadness and Bill's is Anger. Surely neither were born sad or angry? But something happened when they became adults that led to a change of Emotional leadership. Maybe this is what happens to the majority of people at some point in their lives? Only a very lucky few seem to have Joy as their main Emotion throughout their lives!
That's why I decided to write this story…to explore the possibility of a change in Emotional leadership now that Riley is growing up and how Joy would be affected by this change. But just because I posed the idea, doesn't mean that Joy will end up losing her lead role, maybe Riley is one of those lucky people that can remain happy for life…? But I think it would be interesting to explore the idea and if there is to be a change in leader, it would be fun to see which of the other Emotions would step up to the role!
But that's enough of the serious stuff for now! As for the romance I promised in the summary, expect to see some sparks fly when I get to chapter 3 and beyond…let's just say there is one Emotion in particular that will help Joy get through her troubles more than the others!
In this first chapter I was trying to set the scene by explaining what's troubling Joy and how she's planning to go about seeking help. But if you have stuck around and read through this, then I promise things are going to get much more interesting from here on…
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy this story as it progresses!