Kashdan Explores the Positive Side of Negative Emotions

Kashdan Explores the Positive Side of Negative Emotions

Todd Kashdan, faculty member in the Department of Psychology, has co-authored, with Robert Biswas-Diener, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self -- Not Just Your "Good" Self -- Drives Success and Fulfillment.

The book has been listed by Amazon.com editors as one of the ten best business and leadership books for the month of September. It challenges the American cultural emphasis on happiness as an objective, and pulls together research to encourage individuals to embrace all of the emotions they experience -- not just the "positive" states of mindfulness and contentment -- in order to fully grow and succeed as a person. The authors argue that even "negative" emotions like guilt, sadness and selfishness are part of a whole person. By recognizing and working with those emotions, individuals can respond more effectively to a wider variety of challenges.

This notion challenges traditional views on desirable emotions, Kashdan explains. "We want to offer a counter-intuitive idea about the human condition," he says. "The cultural message that 'you should feel good and try not to feel bad' is among one of the most toxic pieces of advice in all of modern psychology.

"Americans hate anger, sadness, and other negative emotions," he continues. "Just take a tour of the bookstore aisles and you’ll see countless titles about our pursuit of happiness. We think that you can gain more from accessing the full range of your emotions.

"You don’t have to avoid discomfort to live a meaningful and engaging life. In fact, a bit of occasional anxiety or guilt can propel you to do great things. Do we think no one should pursue happiness? Of course not.  But if you’re constantly trying (and failing) to feel happy all of the time, you might want to consider an alternative life objective: be present, with an attitude of curiosity, and do what matters most to you.

"We want to show you there’s a wide variety of psychological strengths you might be ignoring because they feel uncomfortable or, on the surface, are socially undesirable. In certain situations, what seems to be intuitively good is unhelpful and what seems to be intuitively bad is helpful. Our goal in writing the Upside of Your Dark Side is to help you become agile and whole, and by doing so, access your full potential for success and fulfillment."