Unlock The Wisdom Of Your Dark, Negative Emotions

Your dark, negative emotions like anger, anxiety, guilt are necessary parts of your life. Psychological health involves accepting our dark sides also and living a life of wholeness rather than one only of happiness.

For a rich, complete life, your healthy mind must accept and embrace the dark side of human nature. Without the presence of negative emotions, your journey to a happy life will remain a distant dream.

We find out how from a splendid book that is fun to read while being chock full of research findings: The Upside of Your Dark Side.

Flourishing Scale (FS)

First, let’s find out how well you are flourishing.

Flourishing is “a state where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning, and positive social functioning, most of the time,” as per the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand (PDF).

Flourishing is a core concept in positive psychology, first ideated by Corey Keyes and Barbara Fredrickson. According to Fredrickson, flourishing has 4 key components: goodness, generative, growth, and resilience.

Flourishing Scale (FS) is a brief 8-item scale that measures your self-perceived success in vital areas of your life, such as relationships, self-esteem, sense of purpose, and optimism (Diener et al., 2009). It gives a single psychological well-being score.

Take the test and find out how much are you flourishing. The average score among 573 university students was 45.4 points (midpoint 32).

he Flourishing Scale
The Flourishing Scale

The authors state the scale is copyrighted but you are free to use it without permission or charge as long as you give credit. Here is the reference to credit the authors of the scale: Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi. D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247-266.

Wisdom From The Dark Side of Human Nature

Now, let’s take a quick dip into the ideas from the book about why we should understand and embrace our negative emotions and dark side to flourish fully.

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The Upside of Your Dark Side is a book that peers into the dark depths of the human psyche and brings out the practicality and utility of our painful emotions—the ones that we most wish we could do away. Backed by many fascinating psychological studies, authors Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener make it clear that our negative emotions are vital to our survival.

The authors convincingly argue:

  • Anger sparks creativity
  • Guilt leads to improvement
  • Self-doubt increases performance
  • Selfishness perks up our courage
  • Mindlessness opens us to better decisions

Kashdan and Biswas-Diener call our attention to an optimal state of “emotional, social, and mental agility,” by which we could use our full range of emotions and behavior — both bad and good — to deal with every situation life throws at us.

The painful emotions are sometimes the key to our success. Click To Tweet

Remember this post is not a book you are reading from — these are just a few ideas taken from that book to give you a glimpse into the span of research that has gone into exploring the benefits of negative aspects of human emotions.

Todd B. Kashdan is a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Virginia. Robert Biswas-Diener is a happiness researcher and an authority on positive psychology coaching who has traveled to 100+ countries. He is widely known as the “Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology.”

The book also sells as The Power of Negative Emotion – How Anger, Guilt, and Self Doubt are Essential to Success and Fulfillment.


Get the book if you like to understand the usefulness of our negative emotions. It was the Audible Bestseller of 2017.

Here’s what Adam Grant, author of Originals and Give And Take, says:

At long last, here’s a book on why happiness can make us sad and mindfulness might be overrated. The Upside of Your Dark Side offers a provocative, evidence-based case for a balanced life. If you haven’t read it yet, you should feel guilty—and it turns out that will be good for you.

And this is what Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, says:

Full of scientific research yet laugh-out-loud funny, this book is a must-read. The authors turn everything on its head—questioning the wisdom of positive psychology and the pursuit of happiness—all in order to help us flourish and be happy!

Rick Hanson, PhD, author of NeuroDharma, recommends it as:

With verve, humor, solid research, and lots of examples, the authors cut through prevailing myths about happiness to show what actually creates a fulfilling, contributing life. Brave, bold, and brilliant.

Summarizing 3 Points From The Book

1. Happiness Can Degrade Performance

We believe a happier work environment can make people better workers. But this idea has a downside.

Happier people care less about the details. This makes them less persuasive and more error-prone.

In an experiment, “happy” and “unhappy” people were asked to write arguments for or against a few political and philosophical issues. The “unhappy” people reasoned 25% more convincingly.

Cheerful people are also more likely to confabulate. They recall false facts or things they never learned.

Therefore, a happy person may not turn out to be an outstanding performer as the head of quality management, where details are everything.

2. Guilt Has Beneficial Effects

According to the authors, there are two upsides to guilt:

Since guilt is a terrible feeling, we do our best to avoid it at all times. It makes us avoid carrying out criminal activities, like driving around drunk or stealing something.

A strong sense of guilt makes us try everything within our power to fix our wrongful deeds. And avoid repeating such acts.

Shame, the authors feel, has much less value.

Because shame makes us distance ourselves from assuming responsibility for our mistakes. A feeling of shame can also make us want to cover up our blunders and deny our sins.

So the next you want to throw that Noritake bowl you broke into the trash while hoping no one notices, just remember you would act out of shame. Instead, try to take responsibility and offer to set it right. You would do things out of guilt, but that would get people to see as you as an honorable person.

3. Being Mindful Can Be Harmful

We have a limited ability to be mindful. Our brains can process only a certain limit of data consciously. The human body sends 11 million bits per second of data to the brain, yet the conscious mind seems can only process 50 bits per second.

Suppose you are trying to understand and solve a complex chess problem. Now, if you had to process all that data with no help from a chess engine or a better player, you might leave it out of sheer brain load.

Mindfulness is good for some tasks, but it is never a one-size-fits-all.

On the flip side, there are specific benefits to being mindless.

Being mindful slows down the workflow, as you are pouring an exhaustive amount of data into your brain. A better way to let your mind wander or daydream, or use your imagination on some unrelated things.

Mindlessness helps you make better decisions, as you tend to trust your gut instincts more. By mindlessness, we mean a state when we are not using our conscious mind to process an issue before us.

One study showed psychologists given files to assess made five times more accurate evaluations when distracted with a crossword puzzle, instead of being given time to think about their decisions. The underlying mechanism could be they moved over the data processing to their unconscious mind while they solved the crossword, and this led them to the right gut feeling.

We have come across similar situations ourselves, when we found the solution to a pressing issue while being away from it, like taking a shower or riding the bicycle.

That is mindlessness at work.

dark emotions

Quotes On The Value of Negative Emotions

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from the book to get an idea of the value of negative emotions in our life in a picture-quote format.

Happiness not everything
1. Happiness is not everything.
Happy people are less persuasive
2. Happy people are less persuasive.
Happy people are more gullible
3. Happy people are gullible.
Q5 Happiness slips away
4. Happiness slips away
Anxiety Get Rid
5. Anxiety isn’t something to always get rid of.
Q6 Anxious people see more
6. Anxious people fare better in danger
7. Anger has a purpose
Q7 Anger boosts creativity
8. Anger boosts creativity
Q7a Guilt is good
9. Guilt is good sometimes
Q8 Guilt can be good
10. Guilt prods us to repair the damages done
Q9 Guilt vs Shame
11. Guilt vs Shame
Q9a Narcissism is dark
12. Narcissism
Q10 Benefits of Narcissism
13. Benefits of Narcissism
14. Psychopath
Q11 Psychopaths better leaders
15. Psychopaths make better leaders
Q12 Mindfulness-definition
16. Mindfulness
Q13 Mindfulness not always
17. Mindfulness is not possible always
Q14 Mindlessness is
18. Mindlessness
Q15 Mindlessness for creativity
19. Mindlessness for creativity
Q16 Reason for negative emotions
20. Reason for negative emotions

Anxious people see farther, hear sharper, react faster. Click To Tweet
Psychopaths handle crises better, by emotionally detaching from the situation. Click To Tweet

Final Words

Our negative emotions are there for a reason: they give us guidance, motivate us to pursue our goals, and keep us out of the way of trouble.

A short video on the merits of our dark side, made form the slides above:

Wisdom From The Dark Side of Human Nature

Want a better idea of how to embrace your negative emotions? Go here.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.

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