Home All The Upside of Your Dark Side (Book Review)

The Upside of Your Dark Side (Book Review)

written by Lisa Sansom 2 October 2014

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

Articles by Lisa are here.

Book review: Kashdan, Todd & Biswas-Diener, Robert. Just out! The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment.



Several weeks ago, maybe longer, I started to hear through the rumor mill that Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener were releasing a new book together.

Ok, the rumor mill was Todd’s Facebook page, so I was pretty sure that it was really happening, but I might be the sort of person who leafs through Us Weekly at the grocery store check-out line, so I’m used to rumors and I don’t believe everything I read on the interwebz.

Then I heard a rumor that I was going to be reviewing it for PPND and I got excited, and then disappointed because the book didn’t show up when I expected it.

Then excited when the book did come.

Then I enjoyed reading it, and then it was done too soon because the last pages weren’t actually the book content but the endnotes, so I felt a little cheated because I really wanted more content.

Then I felt anxious because I actually had to write this book review instead of just savoring the book’s content and re-reading it at my leisure…

Emotional Life of a Human Being

So goes the emotional life of a human being on the face of this planet. Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, sometimes it’s unpredictable, and sometimes it’s not even worth mentioning. That’s what makes us human. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener argue that we should put aside notions that happiness is our end goal because these notions could actually hurt us in the long run.

The field of positive psychology has been around for over 15 years, starting with Dr. Martin Seligman’s APA Presidential address. In his speech, he called for a reoriented science that emphasizes understanding and building the most positive qualities of an individual: optimism, courage, work ethic, future-mindedness, interpersonal skill, the capacity for pleasure and insight, social responsibility, and so on.

Positive psychology should not only have as a useful side effect the prevention of serious mental illness. It should also support the pursuit of the best things in life, including family cohesion, civic virtue, and work engagement. The original vision of positive psychology was not to focus entirely on happiness, and yet that is how many have interpreted Seligman’s call for a recalibration of psychology.

The Backlash

Of course, a backlash has ensued with such titles as Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America and Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Of course, there are several blogs and articles also highlighting the problem with various positive psychology topics, such as the Dark Side of Optimism, the Dark Side of Happiness, and the Dark Side of Resilience. Basically, pick your most favorite (or least favorite) positive psychology topic, put “the dark side of” in front of it and pop it into google. Someone has lambasted it. Even some positive psychology researchers investigate both the positive and negative side concurrently of their chosen topic, as Dr. Robert Vallerand does with obsessive and harmonious passion.

Enter The Upside of Your Dark Side

Kashdan and Biswas-Diener’s new book calls for balance and draws on the research to substantiate its case. The authors encourage us to embrace the fullness of our human psychological experiences without doing a full take-down of either positive psychology or “psychology as usual.” Whereas positive psychology has traditionally (can we use this word in a field that’s not even two decades old?) been seen as a science for those who are psychologically healthy, Kashdan and Biswas-Diener remind us that there are many other wonderful researchers and studies where the population is also statistically normal. In this sense, they offer a solid middle ground. It’s just about psychology. Not abnormal, not positive, just human.

There are reasons why we feel anger, sadness, shame, guilt, anxiety, disappointment, remorse. By and large, these are adaptive emotions, and if we embark on the relentless pursuit of happiness all the time, then we are denying ourselves the benefit of full human interaction with the rest of the world, we cut ourselves off from learning and socialization, and we risk our well-being in the process.

This is not about cherry-picking the evidence either. It’s about looking at equally valid studies that have been done on the benefits of the full emotional experience.

Why is this such a great book?

The Upside of Your Dark Side neatly fills the empirical space between “positive psychology is the best thing going” and “positive psychology is bunk.” It also fills the space around “psychology as usual is for the broken and distraught.” This book brings humanity back to psychology in all its forms. The human experience is real and worth living fully and intimately.

If happiness is not our end goal, then what is?

In 2010, Kashdan co-authored a paper on psychological flexibility which, quite honestly, I felt was one of the best papers I had read. It felt fresh, insightful, honest, and respectful.

It was a call to be human and accepting of our humanity.

The Upside of Your Dark Side feels like a mass media expansion of this basic hypothesis, that “life worth living” isn’t about gaining happiness any more than it is about avoiding misery. The true good life is a life of your whole self. That’s how we grow and that’s how we develop, not just in bits and pieces, but in wholeness.


Kashdan, T. B. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “”Good”” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. Hudson Street Press.

Kashdan, T. B. & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7): 865-78

Britton, K. H. (2011). What about passion? Positive Psychology News.

Ehrenreich, B. (2009). Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Jewell, L. (2010). Bright-sided (Book Review). Positive Psychology News.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1998). President’s address to the American Psychological Association.

Photo Credits: Pictures of Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener are used with permission.

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Sherri Fisher 4 October 2014 - 7:49 am

Lisa, this post is a fun read! It is like having a (parenthetical) conversation with you and captures the emotional ride as well as the “up” side of considering the breadth of psychological experience and study…and there is a book review bonus… 🙂

Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) 4 October 2014 - 8:59 am

Thank you so much Sherri – it really was a wonderful read and brought home so many insights and important lessons. I have also been appreciative of Todd’s willingness to share some of his personal backstory via his other platforms, like Psychology Today. It sheds a whole new light on the book, and also resonates at a personal level. Big thanks to Kathryn for her editing expertise too!!!

Kate Woodhouse 6 October 2014 - 3:57 am

For me this article followed right after – and beautifully resonated with – discussion of a mediation called ‘shi-nè’, which in Tibetan means ‘peaceful abiding’:

“We are here, and there is a texture which relates with that. It is a complete texture, which contains pleasure and pain. It contains: hope and fear; gain and loss; meeting and parting: pride and humiliation.”

From Roaring Silence by Ngakpa Chögyam (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) and Khandro Déchen.

Seph Fontane Pennock 10 October 2014 - 9:03 am

Great review Lisa!

What is your number one personal insight from this book?

I’m really excited to start reading the book as well.

Talk soon,


Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) 11 October 2014 - 6:59 am

Kate – that’s a lovely resonance – thank you so much for sharing!

Seph – that’s a BIG question! I think there are many things I take away, but really fundamentally it’s about valuing the whole human experience and that emotions are a vehicle to take you where you want to go. If that emotion isn’t helping in the moment (and so-called negative emotions can be helpful too…) then maybe it’s time to switch to something else or channel that emotional energy elsewhere.

It aligns with something I always ask my coaching clients: How’s that working for you? And if it’s working, great – keep with it. If you’re not getting what you want, however, then it’s time to try something different – and that doesn’t have to be positivity. Though I will admit to some bias there being a low PA on the PANAS scale, so I don’t tend naturally towards exuding positivity anyhow…. 🙂

doug 5 December 2014 - 7:19 pm

This article is interesting, enlightening, good stuff. At the same time, I think, That’s nice!! Still cant solve all the mental health issues in life, stop poverty, crime or anything else for that matter. This education doesn’t reach the low level entries of education or the main street public through media. What a shame.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com