Olaf and the Negative Mood Cycle

Olaf, the gregarious but clueless snowman, does not wrestle with depression in the movie Frozen. However the actor who plays him, Josh Gad, does play an addict in the 2013 comedy Thanks for Sharing.

Thanks for Sharing has an ambitious premise. It attempts to portray the journey of three sex addicts (Gad, Mark Ruffalo, and Tim Robbins) in a humorous way. It does a decent job but the last 30 minutes are Hollywood-predictable. 

There's one main reason I would recommend watching it - Josh Gad's writing scene. Gad has the rare ability to convey insight with humor. And in about three minutes, he's able to express nonverbally exactly what it feels like to be caught in an addictive pattern. And it's hilarious too.

For the past couple weeks, I've taught about the negative mood cycle, a term coined by my seminary professor, David Eckman. The negative mood cycle describes the addictive pattern. It starts with some kind of negative emotion - boredom, depression, fatigue, or anxiety. Out of that state, a person craves some type of fulfillment to either medicate the pain of the mood or a chemical boost to push through it. The lust is either escapist or stimulating or both. The sin is the execution of the desire. To put it in spiritual terms, sin is the attempt to occupy the vacuum in our hearts that only God can fill. We may not be sex addicts but we are all sin addicts.

Gad's character, Neil, is a member of a sex recovery group but lies to them about his days of sobriety (no uncommitted sex, masturbation, or porn). His sponsor asks him to write about his addiction. In his apartment, Gad stares at the workbook and his anxiety is palpable. A few minutes later, he's masturbating to a porn scene. Then he's back staring at the blank workbook, reminded again of his inadequacy and failure. He is craving some kind of satisfaction, a chemical boost. He eats compulsively. From there, the cycle accelerates in ways that will resonate with anyone who has wrestled with sin patterns. The scene ends on a comically shocking note.

The scene works best seen in the context of the movie so you can get a sense of Gad's character. You'll also see how the addictive cycle drives one to rationalize his behavior. The addictive pattern is catalyzed and sustained by deception. The other person worth watching in the movie is Pink. She is so good. It's as if she's playing her artistic self - angsty, loud, passionate, and raw.

Critics have attacked the movie because sex addiction seems so banal compared to substance abuse. Sex is a primal urge so how can it be an addiction? But that's exactly the point of what the Bible teaches about sin and the negative mood cycle. Sin is the corruption of a good, natural desire. It is not the sin behavior itself that God abhors, it is the appetite that drives the actions. 

So whether your particular fancy is sex, porn, video games, food, shopping, paranoia, perfectionism, Korean soap operas, travel, isolation, social media whoring, work, or religious activity is not the most relevant detail. Those are windows into the addictive pattern. It's the fact of the addictive pattern that matters. We have a tendency to look to certain activities to save us from our negative moods. That is idolatry and what Jesus meant when he said the truth would set us free. He sets us free from the addictive pattern and its lies.


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