Reviewed on 21st September 2015

The Power of Negative Emotion by Todd B. Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener

Genre: Motivation and Self Help / Non-Fiction
The Power of Negative Emotion by Todd B. Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener Synopsis

Feelings like anger, boredom, guilt, and anxiety might be uncomfortable, but they are also incredibly useful. In this ground-breaking book, acclaimed psychologists Dr Todd Kashdan and Dr Robert Biswas-Diener explain why positivity and mindfulness can only take us so far. To live life to the full, we need to cultivate ’emotional agility’ – the ability to access our full range of emotions (not just the ‘good’ ones). The Power of Negative Emotion is a bold handbook for a more fulfilling and successful life.

The Power of Negative Emotion by Todd B. Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener Review

Music to Many an Ear…

Give a spiritual Self-Help junkie a book on the benefits of a regular dose of negativity written by top psychologists, full of case studies and statistics, and it’s always going to be a bit of a wade through treacle! The Power of Negative Emotion was no exception… but only in part. One of the latest releases from Oneworld Publications, even I have to concede, this book does feature timely reminders for even the most irritatingly upbeat of us: It IS okay to be in a bad mood.

By giving up the fight to be incessantly Shiny Happy People…
We embrace the emotional scale we were born with, we get back to neutrality – or in my case, happiness, a helluva lot quicker. Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, who have spent their careers studying happiness, explain how our less endearing feelings; Anger, Self Doubt and Guilt are essential to a life that is whole.

So why do I turn MY back on negativity?
Well, I have lived both lives. I have lived a life full of fear (in the playground, domestic violence relationship, workplace, finances); anger (at the bullies, violent partner, inept boss, bank balance); self doubt (about every aspect of myself imaginable) and overwhelming sadness… the likes of which one wouldn’t wish upon one’s worst enemy (my baby died at birth). And then I discovered the Law of Attraction, Quantum Physics and Metaphysics. But this article isn’t about me. It’s a book review. And, true to the Pollyanna I am, I will refrain from the many debates I could embark on and praise the authors for the parts that resonate instead.

Because, surprisingly, there were many things I LOVED about The Power of Negative Emotion.
-The chapter ‘Beyond the Obsession with Mindfulness’ was spot on. So much detail is given about humanity’s current unwavering pursuit of weighing up and not acting until we are ‘ready’. And I wholeheartedly encourage impulsive behaviour too. Some of our best and most radically life-changing moments stem from it.

-I also jumped up and down at ‘The Teddy Effect’, the chapter devoted to former U.S President, Theodore Roosevelt, and his ‘outlandish’ behaviour. Rebelliousness is a wonderful thing. And oh, how we’ve let our societies give it a bad press when actually we have a right to claim a meaningful life over and above a humdrum existence. Machiavellianism and Narcissism should be the current Twitter trend.

It’s entirely possible that a feeling of uniqueness and a dollop of entitlement gave us the iPhone… the Oprah Book Club‘.

– Similarly there was much that resonated in ‘The Rise of the Comfortable Class’. Fascinating points are made to highlight our pursuit of over-cleanliness and the increase in allergies as well our experiential avoidance (better the devil we know than we try something new).

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– It was fascinating to learn how the DSM (Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has grown far more than exponentially over the last few decades. Our 21st century culture has more than a tendency to label everything as a malfunction… including our varying frames of mind.

-Some really sound arguments were also raised over the cotton-wool wrapping of children, hampering the creativity and social skills of the next generations. Our obsession for health and safety, the lack of freedom we grant our kids, as well as the ever-growing rules and regulations we enforce in schools and homes has blown the ‘safety’ epidemic out of all proportion.


We let our fears get in the way of self-expression.
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener are so right. Our fears surrounding our ‘leaked’ negative emotions are often much more hyped up than need be. Anger, in and of itself, is neither negative or positive. It’s what we do with it. Many are those who’ve endured hardship early in life but used their experiences and the associated emotion of anger to propel themselves to a greater future. In this respect it’s a great tool. But I will argue here that it is only an advantage when we know when and where to purposefully direct it.

As much as happiness is good…
– We should by-pass morphing into smiling Fascists. No good will ever come from trying to persuade those who are neither willing nor ready to turn that frown upside down. All we will achieve is the loss of a friendship or a flurry of our guinea pig’s opposing take on life boomeranging itself right back at us.
– And the constant pursuit of happiness is totally flawed. Here, once again I concur. It’s an inside job. If we can’t enjoy the journey for the journey’s sake, no amount of outside possessions, achievements, money or success will be enough. We will always want more and more.

So WHO is the perfect reader for this book?
Well, actually, I’ve surprised myself. Even the Eternal Optimist will find plenty of food for thought in The Power of Negative Emotion… and certainly those of you who regularly experience the kaleidoscope of feelings that collectively make up Anger, Guilt and Self-Doubt will feel, quite possibly, more supported and understood than ever before. This is a wordy, well-researched and highly fact-based read. And there is also no escaping the fact that we all experience the loss of our loved ones at some point in our lives. So for those inevitable times, this book would make welcome bedside reading. My only reservation is that others (those who regularly indulge in bitterness for the sake of it, those who are going through intense depression or anxiety, those who only know ‘beating the drum’ of negativity on just about every aspect of themselves) may well feel all the more justified in continuing to be in that place… Not because the authors suggest that they remain there. They absolutely don’t. But because as someone who has been there, done that and worn the various emotional T-shirts, this is all too often the mindset of a deeply anxious, deeply angry, deeply self-conscious person.

The 80:20 principle mentioned in this book – although not quite joyful enough for people like me – would indeed probably be a life-altering idea for most people to introduce into their lives as far as the entire spectrum of negative emotions is concerned. And that’s as good a reason as any to read it!

The Power of Negative Emotion is published by Oneworld Publications.
ISBN: 978-1-780746-60-9

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