Self-help book club: The Upside of your Darkside
Slimmer, happier, coupled up or newly promoted: whatever it is you most want to be, there is a self-help book out there claiming to give you the tools to help you achieve it. Luckily team healthy is here to help sort the really useful stuff from the fluff.
First up it’s The Upside of your Dark Side by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener (Hudson Street Press, £16.50)
Jo Wheatley, deputy editor
What’s its promise?
We all have a side to us we perceive as unlikable and unflattering. Just think about the rage after narrowly missing the train that prompts you to curse loudly and kick a nearby bin. This book gives you permission to embrace these devilish traits or ‘natural psychological gifts’ and argues that you can’t be happy unless you do
Did it deliver?
The book claims that those who can draw from the whole range of human emotions – the positive and the negative – are the healthiest and often the most successful. It backs this up with studies: negative feelings are associated with better health and more physical activity in centenarians; workers who are in a bad mood in the morning but shift to a good mood in the afternoon are more engrossed in their work than their counterparts who were happy all day (take that, Alison in accounts). Oh I feel better already.
Most interesting thing I learned?
To be aware of all aspects of yourself is to be whole, and every emotion is useful. Anger stirs you to defend yourself and those you care about and to maintain healthy boundaries; guilt a sign you’ve violated your moral code and need to adjust either your actions or your code; doubt prompts you work on your skills.
How I’m embracing my dark side
As I make the leap to being self-employed in a few weeks, I feel more comforted by the doubt and anxiety I’m feeling. Instead of worrying about what I can’t control I’ll be channeling it at what I can. The book does advocate small physical displays of anger because it’ll help avoid bronchitis and heart attack in the future. So I’ll be back to kicking bins. The age of anti-happiness? Bring it on.
Isabelle Dann, editorial intern
What’s its promise?
Negative emotions bring adaptive advantages. By embracing psychological states both good and bad, you can achieve a more balanced and stabilising sense of wholeness. But it doesn’t pretend a 50/50 split happy/dark approach is ideal – apparently we should aim for 80/20.
Did it deliver?
In a nutshell, yes. Alongside the psychoanalysis there are everyday bite-size accounts, making it more relatable. It throws up behavioural patterns that you previously never really thought about. For example, people usually react more strongly to negative experiences than positive ones – a bad day might still affect you the next day, whereas a good day may be long forgotten. There’s also the odd fancy equation in there for good measure.
Most interesting thing you learned?
In psychoanalysis, depression is studied far more than sex, which is a shame as the latter can seriously alleviate the former. The book’s authors decided to investigate whether sex can serve as a free and fun form of therapy. Turns out people suffering from social anxiety benefit greatly from sexual contact, even as much as twenty-four hours after an anxiety attack. Sex that left people feeling intimately connected to another person lowered anxiety the following day by 10% – 25% if the sex was scorching.
Will you be unleashing your dark side? How?
Rather than secretly raging through negative emotions only to repress them later, I’ll write down exactly how I’m feeling at the time my ‘dark side’ comes out, making a note the causes. Hopefully I may be able to trace some patterns, cue personal growth. Instead of regretting bad experiences or feelings, I’ll try to focus on what I’ve learned from the situation.