‘The Upside to your Dark Side’, by Todd Kashan and Robert Bishwas-Diener (yes the son of Ed Diener one of the ‘fathers’ of Positive Psychology) is a fascinating, if not controversial, addition to the Positive Education movement library. In it the authors focus on the value of negative emotions in balance with the positive (remember that the desired positive to negative emotion is 3:1), and why acknowledging these emotions is crucial to our healthy development.
Early on, they give a detailed account of some of the ‘realities’ we currently live with:
- modern people are less accustomed to hardship than our forebears – war, economic depressions, influenza epidemics, and other hardships
- relative wealth and advances in technology mean we enjoy unprecedented comfort and increasingly view discomfort as toxic, unmanageable and intolerable.
One of the repercussions is that those most directly affected by this are children, as parents are increasingly involved in school, social life and recreation in an attempt to create a safe, hygienic and supportive environment. Helicopter parenting, tiger mothers, and cotton wool kids are all symptoms of our need to protect and push.
Kashan and Bishwas-Diener posit that we also shy from our negative emotions instead of embracing them for their importance and that we should be aiming for emotional agility,
One perspective is to accept our ‘wholeness’ and embrace, not just the feeling of positivity and our strengths, but also the negative aspects of life.
One interesting study cited in the book was conducted by Jonathan Adler and Hal Hershfield who investigated the science behind successful psychotherapy. They looked at 47 adults being tested for anxiety and depression, and wanted to know what happened before a client’s problems resolve, before their quality of life improves, and before they start liking themselves. They found that it was not a simple case of just willing and creating more positive moments, success in therapy happens when people start to become comfortable experiencing mixed emotions, and showing the capacity to experience both brought about the greatest gains in well-being.
The study also showed that experiencing more positive emotions alone did not lead to improving a person’s emotional agility.This is not to negate the importance of trying to build positivity, but provides a sensible voice as to why we shouldn’t ignore what is in integral and valuable part of who we are.
So much more in the book to ponder… worth a read.