Editor’s Note: Lisa Sansom drew our attention to this response by Robert Biswas-Diener to comments about the new book that he just published with Todd Kashdan, The Upside of Your Dark Side. We reprint his response with the author’s permission to benefit any readers who are debating whether to purchase the book. For more information, see also Lisa’s recent review.
Although it has only been out for two weeks, The Upside of Your Dark Side has stirred some spirited discussion. I wanted to take a moment to add a few comments.Myths about The Upside of Your Dark Side
Myth 1. This is a book about the power of negative emotions.
Interestingly, most reviewers have characterized this book as being about emotions. That is not actually true. At its core this is a book about being psychologically flexible: experiencing and using a wide range of psychological states that are good matches for unique situations. In our introductory chapter we specify three types of agility– emotional, cognitive and social– and we organize the rest of the book around these categories. It is true that we have a single chapter on the functions of negative emotions. To reduce the book to this chapter, however, misses the broader sweep of our thesis.
Myth 2. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener are not clinical psychologists.
For some reason, it appears important to some reviewers and commentators that Todd and I have a background in clinical psychology. They accuse us, at times, of being researchers (tantamount to saying that we are “armchair clinicians”) or that we lack the credibility to discuss negative emotional states that might reach clinical significance. To the extent that this is important it might be helpful to commentators to learn that both of us have graduate degrees in clinical psychology and both have experience conducting therapy (admittedly, I only did so as a graduate student). We have both published on clinical issues.
Myth 3. The authors cherry pick the research.
Many of the most severe criticisms we have faced regard our reporting of research. As most commentators note there are scores of studies in this book. Todd and I spent two years putting this together. We drew from developmental, cross-cultural, social, personality, and other research literatures to inform our thinking.
Let me say that again so that it is very clear: Todd and I read the research. Reading the research gave us our ideas, not the other way around. It is a mistake to think that we had ideas and then went searching for odd studies to support them. That line of reasoning is tantamount to accusing us of an ethical violation (knowingly misreporting research) and I take it pretty seriously.
Myth 4. This is an anti-happiness book.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a pro-happiness book. In fact, you might think of it as our version of Happiness 2.0. We were not the first to arrive at some of these concepts. Indeed Carl Jung and others addressed the potential benefits of negative aspects of psychology. But we present an up-to-date synthesis of modern research. We point out some of the newest trends in happiness research including some of the costs of positive affect. Although my father published on this decades ago, it has seen an uptick in attention by a wide range of very responsible academics in the last decade. We do not leave the reader there, however. We also discuss positive aspects of happiness. We discuss both meaning and pleasure (and their relation to one another), as well as familiarity and novelty (and their relation to one another). It is our hope that this will help deepen the exciting conversation about happiness, not dismiss it.
No one is under any obligation to like our work nor should anyone feel compelled to agree with our points. When Todd and I put this work together we hoped to make an impact largely by advancing the conversation on happiness. Despite what many on-lookers think, Todd and I do not fancy ourselves provocateurs. We think of ourselves as responsible researchers and practitioners who care a great deal about science in general, and positive psychology specifically. We have devoted our careers not to pointing out holes in the field, but to filling them in.
All the best.
Kashdan, T. & 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.