Review: The Upside of Your Dark Side

The Book:  The Upside of Your Dark Side


 The Upside of Your Dark Side is a fresh examination of the usefulness of our darkest emotions. It presents the scientific case for hidden benefits of states like anxiety and anger. The implications are massive. Rather than our foe, negative emotions can be our friend, a part of the human arsenal we need to use wisely to be our whole self and live a fulfilling life.


People who struggle with depression know full well about the dark side of unwelcome, painful emotions.  Our reflexive response is to try to kill the pain

  • We do everything we can to distract ourselves.

  • We try to drown out the pain with alcohol,  or worse.

  • We reach for the latest book that will tell us “how to be happy”

Why is our first, second, and third action to try to kill these states?   Authors Todd Kashan and Robert Biswas-Diener observe that this is what we do because this is what we know. We live in a culture that is so obsessed with happiness as the be-all and end-all that we don't even recognize that we have assumptions about negative emotions, let alone that these assumptions might be wrong.

USOYDS uses great anecdotes and research illustrations to help us see negative emotion in a new light. When we try to kill our negatives – whether it’s anger, sadness, or anxiety – we end up killing off vital parts of our self. The authors do not make this argument lightly, or take an extreme position that negative emotions are always good, or ask us to be masochists. Instead, they lead us on a curious exploration of negative emotions and behaviors and their implications.  USOYDS is an easy-to-read, often humorous guide to the dark side, that details how and why we're often better off with anger, sadness, shame, guilt, anxiety, disappointment, and remorse than we would be without them.

The authors view emotions (including negative ones) as a sort of superpower. This is a good analogy because if you've ever read a comic book you know that superpowers can be misused, and such powers can do good only if we understand and appreciate how and when it is useful to have X-ray vision or to spin a web any size. Kashdan says of anxiety, "If an airline pilot has to de-ice a plane, it would be great if anxiety arises, reminding the pilot that this is a time to be particularly cautious and careful." So, too, anger can be a source for positive social change if the recognition of injustice motivates us to do charitable work or champion causes.  Guilt can be a vital signal that you've violated your moral code if it leads you to adjust your actions or your code. They summarize, "Rather than steering you to a single feeling state [like happiness], then, we urge you to consider the usefulness of many--especially the ones we turn away from--and to develop the ability to navigate every one." If we use them wisely, negative emotions can help us endure the challenges dished out by life and find our place among other humans. To truly make it in the world, we need to engage the full range of psychological states we've inherited, including negative emotions.

The authors understand that being happy will always be desirable. But they point out the paradox at the heart of this desire: Intensely desiring to be happy can actually interfere with becoming happy.  USOYDS is obviously not a happiness guide but it offers clues to an alternative path to a happy life. You'll need to read the book because the details matter, but basically this path resembles John Lennon's famous observation that "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."  Happiness is what happens when you put your focus elsewhere. This quote (a favorite of the authors) illustrates:

If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator. —Bernan Wolfe

There is, then, an unexpected payoff of USOYDS: Learning how to tolerate, explore, and productively engage negative emotions —somewhat ironically—puts us on a more sustainable long-term path to feeling good.


USOYDS is a science book.  While it is humorous and easy to read, it references a wide range of research findings. You will have to engage your mind to benefit from reading it.


A breezy and wise guide to human emotions, when they help, when they hurt – and how to know the difference.

USOYDS joins the ranks of important books to correct the excesses of the positive psychology movement, including 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.


Links to buy the book in the USA, UK,  Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

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