I love the field of positive psychology. For me it balanced my exposure to psychiatric illness and provided me with a broader, more encompassing view of our psychological experience as human beings. My only regret about it is that it was born after I completed my formal education. However, after discovering the first book on the topic, in the early nineties, I’ve read hundreds of studies and numerous books about it, and I write quite extensively about it on my blog, because I think it brings a sense of balance, in a psychiatric and psychotherapeutic world dominated by disease, drug treatment and therapy.
I also believe that every aspect of our human experience has value and is instructive-including negative emotions. The saying everything in moderation, including positive psychology is very true, as I have written about balance, and the validity of all of our experiences and responses to them.
So I was intrigued when I saw The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self--Not Just Your "Good" Self--Drives Success and Fulfillment, by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diene a few weeks ago. I picked it up, scanned through it, put it down, then took it with me, as I knew this book was one I needed to read. I was tempted not to buy it because of other books that have attacked positive psychology, I believe quite unfairly.
I’m glad I read this book, as it was balanced and thoughtful, about emotions we call (and I do this myself) “negative.” The authors remind us that every emotion has its place in our dynamic experience as human beings, and sometimes (which I do agree) being negative is not only helpful, but psychologically healthy.
Psychological Flexibility vs Positive Psychology
The authors challenge us to become have psychological flexibility, which spans a wide range of human abilities to: recognize and adapt to various situational demands; shift mindsets or behavioral repertoires when these strategies compromise personal or social functioning; maintain balance among important life domains; and be aware, open, and committed to behaviors that are congruent with deeply held values. When people experience psychological/psychiatric disorders. these flexibility processes are not present.
They believe that another key ingredient to psychological health—one that complements traditional perspectives—is psychological flexibility. Although psychological flexibility makes a major contribution to daily well-being and lasting psychological health, it is a construct that has been overlooked in the field of positive psychology.
Another related reason psychological flexibility has been neglected as a cornerstone of health is difficult to define. Psychological flexibility encompasses several processes that unfold over time. It includes how we: (1) adapt to fluctuating situational demands, (2) reformulate our mental resources, (3) change perspective, and (4) balance competing desires, needs, and life issues. Also, definitions of psychological flexibility have to incorporate repeated interactions between people and their environmental contexts.
Life is unpredictable, and always changing, as is our emotional life. Sometimes it’s “good,” some days it’s “bad,” always it’s changing and usually unpredictable. That’s what makes it unique and exciting, but sometimes difficult to bare. The authors constantly assert throughout the book, that we should carefully exam and reformulate our belief that happiness is our goal as a continuous focus on happiness can be harmful.
What’s so Good About Balance?
The book is a call for balance and provides a significant amount of research to supports it’s theory and recommendations. The authors urge us all to fully embrace all of our emotional experiences, without completely dismissing positive psychology or the traditional world of psychology and psychiatry. And like the Buddha, the authors recommend taking “the middle path.” The labels and terminology, unfortunately have gotten in the way. Our lives are enriched by the experience, and when we label them, It’s not positive or negative, we fall into the trap of failing to see the value of the experience in the moment.
We have all found that the experiences we wanted so much to avoid, and our emotional responses to them, were great instructors, after the fact. The great contribution of this book for me, was to make allow me to see the value of the “negative experience and emotions” in the midst of it.
Their work gives us permission to be who we are-complex, dynamic beings. Yes, there are good and significant reasons why we feel and experience emotions that we don’t necessarily want: anxiety, anger, disappointment, guilty, remorse, sadness and shame. But it is the avoidance, suppression, and rejection of that makes them toxic.
These emotions are all instructive, and if we don’t resist them, as we are tempted to do, but embrace the experience, they instruct and guide us to a greater sense of being.
What I most appreciate about the book was its balance and inclusion of studies conducted on the the entire human emotional experience.
The Upside of Your Dark Side accurately balances the best of both worlds, between “positive psychology is the best thing going” and “positive psychology is bunk.” It allowed me to consider psychology in it all encompassing reality.
It reminded me in a very unique way of the wholeness that makes each and every one of us unique expressions of human potential.
I am so glad I brought this book home with me, as it has allowed me to incorporate a broader consideration of my own emotional journey.