The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self--Not Just Your "Good" Self--Drives Success and Fulfillment

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9780147516442: The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self--Not Just Your

Two mavericks in the field of positive psychology deliver a timely message

Happiness experts have long told us to tune out our negative emotions and focus instead on mindfulness, positivity, and optimism. Researchers Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., and Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos., disagree. Positive emotions alone are not enough. Anger makes us creative, selfishness makes us brave, and guilt is a powerful motivator. The real key to success lies in emotional agility. Drawing upon extensive scientific research and a wide array of real-life examples, The Upside of Your Dark Side will be embraced by business leaders, parents, and everyone else who’s ready to put their entire psychological tool kit to work.

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About the Author:

Todd B. Kashdan, PhD, is a twin, has twin seven-year-old daughters, and has plans to rapidly populate the world with great conversationalists in Fairfax, Virginia.

The son of prominent positive psychologist Ed Diener, Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos., lives in Portland, Oregon.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION

THE PROMISE OF WHOLENESS

PERHAPS THE MOST difficult test commonly used for recruiting elite special forces soldiers has nothing to do with marksmanship or proficiency in hand-to-hand combat. It’s a simple jog down a remote road. Young men are instructed to don full gear and report to the starting point early in the morning, often sleep deprived and hungry. What makes this particular run unusually challenging is that none of the candidates are told the length of the course. Is it three hundred yards? Three miles? Thirty miles?

The stakes are high as the recruits begin their jog into the unknown. Some sprint forward in hopes of being first if the run is short. Others pace themselves, carefully conserving energy in the thought that the run could turn out to be a marathon. Some keep to themselves, trusting in their resolve and determination. Others jog together as a group, shouting words of encouragement. Running with sixty-pound packs is tiring, but the physical exertion is less demanding than the mental strain. The pressure of not knowing the distance to the finish line pushes many to the breaking point.

Ambiguous tasks are a good place to observe how personality traits bubble to the surface. Although few of us are elite soldiers, we’ve all experienced the kind of psychological distress these trainees encounter on their training run: managing unclear expectations, struggling with self-motivation, and balancing the use of social support with private reflection. These issues are endemic not only to the workplace, but also to relationships, health, and every aspect of life in which we seek to thrive and succeed. Not surprisingly, the leading predictor of success in elite military training programs is the same quality that distinguishes those best equipped to resolve marital conflict, to achieve favorable deal terms in business negotiations, and to bestow the gifts of good parenting on their children: the ability to tolerate psychological discomfort.

This is what psychologists refer to as distress tolerance, a quality found in people who can handle the emotional equivalent of camping (no shampoo, flush toilets, or walls to keep out creepy crawlers), who don’t shy away from anger, guilt, or boredom just because they feel bad. Instead, they withstand the discomfort of those feelings and—when appropriate—even draw from this darker palette of emotions. You might be asking, why would I want to do that? Pain hurts. I’d rather be happy. If this question occurs to you, we’re nodding our heads in full agreement. We want you to be happy too. Distress tolerance is important not just because it makes you a better camper or soldier, but also because it allows you to become stronger, wiser, mentally agile, and, most important, happier in a more resilient, and therefore durable, way. After more than a decade of working with patients, clients, students, small companies, and organizations as large as the military and the Fortune 100, we, the authors, are putting forward a new way to pursue what is desirable in life; it’s not happiness, exactly, although it does have the side effect of making us happier. We call this state wholeness.


Beyond Happiness, Becoming Whole

There will always be experts—especially in psychology—who argue that one particular way of being (happy, hardy, optimistic) is a cure-all. In this book, we take a different approach. Instead of suggesting that one state is best, we suggest that they all are. We believe—and new research supports—the idea that every emotion is useful. Even the ones we think of as negative, including the painful ones. Anger is a good example. Research shows that only rarely does anger turn into the kind of overwhelming rage that leads to violence. Instead, it tends to bubble up when you perceive an encroachment on your rights as a person. Anger stirs you to defend yourself and those you care about, and to maintain healthy boundaries. Similarly, embarrassment is sometimes an early warning sign of humiliation. More often it’s a signal that we’ve made a small mistake and that a small correction is required. Even guilt is not as awful as you might guess. It’s a signal that you’re violating your own moral code and therefore need to adjust either your actions or your code.

All psychological states have some adaptive advantage. Rather than steering you toward a single feeling state, then, we urge you to consider the usefulness of many—especially the ones we turn away from—and to develop the ability to navigate every one. For some people, seeing the bright side of life is an uphill battle; for others, feeling sad is an unusual event. We don’t suggest an extra helping of happiness or a dash of negativity; we suggest both. It is by appropriately flipping back and forth between these two states that you can achieve a balanced, stabilizing sense of wholeness. Simply put, people who are able to use the whole range of their natural psychological gifts—those folks who are comfortable with being both positive and negative, and can therefore draw from the full range of human emotions—are the healthiest and, often, the most successful.

Wholeness does not come easily, however. We get comfortable with pursuing a certain set of emotions. They make us feel good. Riding high in the moment is hard to pass up—think of a perfect kiss when your lips meld into the moistness of your partner’s, or of hearing the cheers of fellow employees when your name is announced for having won an award. Other emotions, like anger and guilt, are so painful that we avoid or suppress them. It turns out that the uncertainty, frustration, and occasional dash of guilt that stem from broken hearts, missed basketball shots at the buzzer, and botched interviews are the seeds of growth in knowledge and maturity. These often unwanted, negative experiences end up shaping some of the most memorable and inspiring experiences of our lives. By learning to embrace and use negative emotions as well as positive ones, we position ourselves for success.


Two Authors, One Quest

So who are we, the authors in whom you have chosen to invest your time and entrust your confidence? Both of us entered the field of positive psychology more than a decade ago, when this new scientific movement was just finding its legs. We were drawn to the promise of a fresh discipline with a new way of tackling old issues. In a discipline dominated by anxiety and depression research, we found the focus of positive psychology refreshing.

We’ll give you just a single example: sex. In the years since Sigmund Freud made it the main event, human sexuality has been a bit sidelined from psychology. Scientists, like many people, can be prudes. Given the amount of time we think about sex, crave sex, have sex, or, more easily, purchase 50 Shades of Gray novels, you’d think that human sexuality would be the most researched topic in history: we should know more about sex than we do about the speed of light or genetic engineering. But when we recently entered the keyword termssex and depression into the leading professional psychological database, we found just over two thousand hits for the former and two hundred thousand hits for the latter. Now that’s depressing!

The two of us went about investigating whether sex can serve as a free, fun form of therapy for anxiety. We were particularly interested in socially anxious folks who avoid making social connections for fear of rejection. In our study, we had more than a hundred participants report on hundreds of sexual episodes across a two-week period. We had people rate the degree to which they felt intimacy, experienced pleasure, and reached an orgasmic climax during sexual episodes. It turns out that people who suffer with social anxiety problems benefit from sexual contact, even as much as twenty-four hours after an anxiety attack. Sex that left people feeling intimately tied to another person lowered anxiety the following day by 10 percent. Even better, hot sex—escapades that were downright lusty—lowered anxiety by 25 percent!

We concluded that there is a place, even a curative place, for talking about positive experiences in conjunction with so-called negative experiences like anxiety and depression. But even as we tilled the fields of positive psychology, both of us were also increasingly put off by the gung-ho happiology we often witnessed. Over the past fifteen years, positive psychology has been transformed from a reminder that “positive experiences are important” to a kind of smiling fascism.

Nowhere is cultural shift toward the positive more obvious than in the world of business. It was only three decades ago that Jack Welch took the helm of GE and introduced the world to “stretch goals.” His idea was that placing people in uncomfortable and demanding positions could accelerate personal growth and, ultimately, performance. Fast-forward to the present moment, when the latest business management fad is the idea that a good mood translates to business success. The so-called happiness advantage. Some data even back this up: happy employees get better customer evaluations, are more likely to help a colleague, and make more money. There are enough data that positivity evangelists feel comfortable touting an upbeat approach as a workplace panacea. Discussed less frequently, however, are the research findings that the most satisfied people of all actually make less money and are less conscientious in their work habits.

Some companies that surfed the happiness wave to success have been wondering how to deal with legitimate discontent within the ranks. At Ruby Receptionists, for instance—a business that Fortune magazine rated the “#1 best small business place to work in America”—employees are rightly proud of their positive work culture. They are supportive of one another. Their office is fun and playful. Receptionists receive paid sabbaticals, on-site fitness classes, bonus trips to Hawaii, and a host of other upbeat perks. People can walk around 90 percent of the time with authentic smiles on their faces. But the company has wrestled with the other 10 percent. Management and employees are uncertain what to do about the gripes, frustrations, cattiness, and other negative experiences that are an inevitable part of professional life.

We began to wonder too, and in our research we became more and more interested in the intersection of positive and negative.


Drawing on the Upside of the Dark Side

In 1972, as the world’s attention turned to the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, American athlete Frank Shorter was mentally preparing for the greatest challenge of his career: appearances in both the marathon and the 10,000 meter event. It would turn out to be one of the weirder moments in Olympic history. On the morning of September 10, there were a number of reasons why Shorter had a difficult time finding that all-important inner focus. He had earlier finished a disappointing fifth place in the 10,000 meter race; his teammate, legendary runner Steve Prefontaine, petered out in the last lap of the 5,000 meter race to take fourth, failing to medal; and, of course, the games themselves were eclipsed in emotional significance by the shocking massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian militants.

For Shorter, the marathon must have been a roller coaster of doubt and confidence: confidence as he glanced over his shoulder to assess the size of his lead, and doubt when he finally entered the stadium for the last part of the race and inexplicably found himself in second place. Unbeknownst to him, while Shorter was running toward the stadium, a German student named Norbert Sudhaus slipped past security, jumped onto the racetrack, and impersonated an athlete running in the lead position. To further complicate matters, just before Shorter entered the stadium, the crowd had erupted in cheers for the impostor in first place, and Shorter had to redouble his efforts amid a chorus of boos as the audience realized it had been duped. Despite the many mental, emotional, and physical obstacles, Shorter ended up with the gold medal.

Frank Shorter’s unusual case is proof that in running, as in so many other aspects of life, two experiences are taking place at the same time. Although a long-distance race seems to be a physical feat, mostly a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, it is, actually, a largely mental affair. We have interviewed dozens of athletes—especially runners—and the same themes emerge. Time and again, we were told that there was “more than one race” on the track that day. Many athletes distinguish between the beginning, the middle, and the end of the race. Intense focus marks the beginning of the race, the middle is characterized by deep self-reflection, and the end is an all-out burst of primal energy. It is this last portion, in particular, that bears so directly on our thesis. This is the part of the race where athletes are most likely to use anger, self-castigation, an aggressive desire to crush the competition, and other so-called negative states to spur their own performance to new highs. If positivity and optimism account for 80 percent of success, more or less, then tapping the whole range of experience offers that remaining 20 percent edge.

We are no different from you, dear reader. We prematurely discard our painful feelings, thoughts, and urges without giving them a fair chance. Seduced by the obvious benefits of kindness, compassion, mindfulness, optimism, and positivity on our health, social relationships, and work, we often forget the value of uncomfortable states. Our minds were changed on this issue, however, when we considered results from a number of studies showing the counterintuitive truth: happiness sometimes backfires, and bad states are sometimes good.

What’s more, we are attracted to the notion of wholeness because it fits with all that we know about science and life. Wholeness has an ancient place of honor in myths across all cultures and, therefore, in the archetypal landscape of the human psyche. Wouldn’t it be great to possess full access to the endless energies of creation instead of shackling ourselves to just being positive, cheerful, kind, loving, and selfless? We’ll never free ourselves to soar in that infinite potential if we’re busy trying to avoid the darker parts of our selves, the aspects we fail to appreciate.

What we’re offering you here is an anti-happiness book that, paradoxically, opens you up to a far greater degree of joy than you could ever experience with a more direct approach. In fact, the latest studies show that there is no direct path to happiness. We are not opposed to happiness, positivity, kindness, or mindfulness. In fact, we embrace them. We also wish to ask you, the reader, one further question: are you ready for more? Will you join us in taking happiness to the next level? To go there you’ll need access to everything in the human psychological knapsack, which means unpacking and integrating previously ignored and underappreciated parts of who you are. In the pages that follow, you will learn how to become more emotionally, socially, and mentally agile. By accepting the challenge of drawing on the dark side when it’s most helpful, you bring wholeness within reach, perhaps for the first time.


CHAPTER 1

The False Nose of Happiness

IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY DENMARK, Tycho Brahe was as renowned for his flamboyant lifestyle as he was for his scientific genius. Brahe’s nose was cut off in a duel (he replaced it with a metal one), and he attended parties with his pet moose (who drank copious amounts of alcohol), but Brahe’s lasting claim to fame is his contribution to astronomy. Instead of accepting ancient philo...

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