Princess Unikitty is the embodiment of positivity. (If you don’t know who I’m talking about, drop everything and go watch/rewatch the brilliance that is The Lego Movie. I’ll wait.) In her beloved Cloud Cuckoo Land, Unikitty leads a life of carefree, rainbow-colored chaos, where anything goes – as long as there are no frowny faces. Her commitment to thinking happy thoughts runs deep, even when the bad guys show up and Cloud Cuckoo Land turns less rainbow and more explosive.
Obviously, this is not the healthiest emotional habit, and it doesn’t sustain Unikitty for long. Even as she explains the motto above, her face becomes red and angry. Though she tries her best to suppress negativity, it’s still there, lurking just beneath the surface. By the end of the movie, Unikitty’s anger at seeing her friends attacked overpowers her obsessively positive mindset, and she busts out some fantastic animated karate to take down her fair share of bad guys. Plus it’s funny to watch someone go from determinedly cheerful to Hulk-smash furious in 5 seconds.
Though moviegoers recognize that Unikitty should not be dealing with her emotions this way, she still presents a fair picture of the emotional facade our society expects of us. We place a great deal of emphasis on BE HAPPY! without sufficient focus on the methods we use to get there. We encourage people to “let go” of negative emotions as quickly as possible, to “shake off” experiences and feelings we deem “toxic” due to their Not-Happy nature. In effect, a lot of us really do push those thoughts “down deep inside where you’ll never, ever, ever, EVER find them.”
Unfortunately, this is not the same as feeling them.
I haven’t talked about this yet on this blog, but my own Unikitty-esque emotional habits led me into a serious struggle with depression about a year ago. All of my emotions, Happy and Not-So-Happy, completely shut down. I went numb. And at first I couldn’t figure out why. I thought depression and anxiety needed some kind of trigger, but I hadn’t had any traumatic event in my life. Eventually, my counselor traced it back to the Really Big Conflict, as I’ve referred to it, from The Internship sophomore year.
I thought, like Elsa from Frozen, I had just let it go.
In reality, I was more like Unikitty, pretending Cloud Cuckoo Land wasn’t crashing down around my ears. I shoved the anger, hurt, and confusion deeper and deeper down until finally the Happy Thoughts shut off too.
Something my counselor told me: You can’t feel things selectively. You can’t just ignore negative emotions without eventually turning off the positive ones too.
As Unikitty shows us, if Not Happy Thoughts are simply shoved aside in favor of Happy Thoughts, there comes a breaking point. Either you explode, like Unikitty, or you go numb, like I did. Being happy All! The! Time! is all well and good if you’re just that kind of person, but I’m learning the importance of truly moving on – feeling the negative feelings and making space in your mind for them before taking that deep breath.
So maybe I won’t identify so strongly with Unikitty anymore. But she’s a good reminder of my old habits – and why they won’t sustain me any more than they did her.
UPDATE: The original title of this post was “Unikitty is My Spirit Animal,” but having learned of that term’s importance to native peoples and cultures, I’ve decided not to use it here. I have edited the post accordingly. (2019)
Some articles about this:
Beyond Happiness: The Upside of Feeling Down from Psychology Today
Negative Emotions are Key to Well-Being from Scientific American
The Importance of Negative Emotions from Huffington Post