How to Embrace Your Dark Side
What do you want out of life? Most people answer, “I want to be happy.” Unfortunately, my friends, happiness is a problematic request. Why? Because it’s not a realistic goal. Happiness is not a constant, in fact, it can be pretty fleeting. And defining what we need to make us happy can be as elusive as achieving it. So, rather than attempt the impossible by trying to sustain a a state of happiness, it’s a much better and more positive idea to shoot for being whole…which is far more fulfilling than “just” being happy.
That’s the brilliant proposal from Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, two luminaries in the field of positive psychology, whose most amazing book was just published. This is the book I’ve been waiting for! The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your "Good" Self— Drives Success and Fulfillment! I had the chance recently to speak with Todd about their latest work. You can watch the video here.
I highly recommend you grab a copy of this book. In it, you will learn how to get in touch with all of your emotions and accept them without judgment. In other words, to not feel badly for having “bad” feelings. In the book, the authors explain how our negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt—so much of what we’d rather not feel—are there to serve a purpose….The point is to learn to see our “more dark” emotions in this more productive way.
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener have identified the three most common ways humans typically deal with things that bring out these darker emotions. Which one is your go-to?
Suffering: trying to deny or ignore what’s bothering us
Tolerating: white-knuckling it or holding our breath, trying to just get through it
Harnessing: feeling and using our negative emotions elicited by the incident to create a more favorable outcome
Choosing, however subconsciously, suffering or tolerating as a coping strategy in order to not have to experience our dark side (aka, our negative emotions) actually denies us opportunities and resources and can make us feel powerless. For example, when we acknowledge our sadness (or anger or whatever darkness we’re feeling), we have a better chance of determining what’s causing it and then working on a positive or productive resolution. But when we try to deny our sadness (or anger or whatever…) or just tolerate it, we have less to no chance of addressing the underlying issues and effecting any kind of favorable outcome.
That’s why it’s ESSENTIAL, explain the co-authors, to develop our emotional vocabulary: to discern what we’re truly feeling and have a language for describing the feelings. All too often these days, we lump our negative feelings together under the label “Stressed” instead of identifying it. How can we expect to fix a problem without actually knowing what it is and why we’re feeling this way?
The big take-away: Being whole may not magically solve all problems, but it does give us a complete arsenal of emotions and insights with which to more effectively take things on and deal with them.
Watch this video—it’s a bit on the long side but so worth it. (The sound is a bit off in the beginning but it clears up). Then read the book! Would love to get your thoughts and feedback afterwards.