LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

The Power of Negative Emotion

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by Todd Kashdan.

The Power of Negative Emotion starts by looking at which emotions we think of as negative (primarily anger, sadness, and anxiety), and how different societies few these emotions in different ways. It explains why these emotions can be viewed as natural responses to normal events, and how suppressing them is not always desirable or healthy.

The authors go on to consider how aspects of these emotions can sometimes be more effective or productive than their so-called positive counterparts, e.g. using a proportional amount of controlled (and disclosed) anger to persuade someone to do something important (i.e. not resorting to aggression/bullying). It introduces the idea that this kind of manipulative behaviour is natural to us all, and a necessary (and recognised) part of successful social interaction.

The book also dedicates a chapter to the playoff between mindfulness and mindlessness, arguing that the human brain is much more creative when it is allowed to wander, and that the current obsession with “being present” all the time is not realistic. Boredom versus distraction is also covered.

Like a twist I didn’t see coming, the concluding chapter of this book blew me away: it presents tools for reframing “negative” emotions (see how I’m already putting “negative” in quotes?) and invites us to see feelings as useful or not-useful rather than positive and negative. We are It also encourages us to accept, and to some extent, embrace, the less pleasant (but natural and normal) sides of our personalities – to tap into the strengths we usually push aside as part of a darker set of emotions.

As someone who has particularly struggled with negative emotions over the last five years (during a series of chronic live-changing events), I welcome the perspective offered by this book. I would go as far as to say it has revolutionised my thinking, leaving me feeling a whole lot more positive about feeling negative.

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See also
The Antidote: happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking, by Oliver Burkeman
Born Liars, by Ian Leslie (review to follow soon)

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