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From yellow smiley faces to the refrain “have a nice day,” Americans are regularly reminded about the power of positivity. The drive to focus on happy experiences–whether at home, school or in the office–has even launched the relatively new branch of “positive psychology.” But research shows that suppressing negative emotions is not only harmful to ourselves and others, it also increases anxiety in an already worry-filled world. We talk with a leader in the field of positive psychology about the benefits of bad feelings, and how they can help you live a more fulfilling life.
- Todd Kashdan Professor of Clinical Psychology, George Mason University; Author, "The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self -- Not Just Your 'Good' Self -- Drives Success and Fulfillment"
Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Random House (USA) Inc., from The Upside of Your Dark Side by Todd Kasdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. Copyright © 2014 by Todd Kasdan and Robert Biswas-Diener.
MS. REBECCA SHEIRFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Rebecca Sheir, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, from ubiquitous yellow smiley faces to the constant refrain of have a nice day, ours is a relentlessly positive culture. We hold our tongues when we want to speak our minds. We buck up when things go wrong. And we're reminded to put our best foot forward always.
MS. REBECCA SHEIRThe power of positivity is everywhere, but is it doing us any good? Scientists say, not so much. An increasing body of research shows that suppressing negative emotions can not only harm ourselves and others, it also increases anxiety in an already worry filled world. But how can we benefit from anger, sadness and our complicated range of negative emotions? And what is so healthy about our dark side? Someone who's been looking into these questions is our guest today, Todd Kashdan, Professor of Clinical Psychology at George Mason University.
MS. REBECCA SHEIRHe's co-author of the book, "The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self, Not Just Your Good Self, Drives Success and Fulfillment." Welcome to the show, Todd.
MR. TODD KASHDANThanks. Good to be here.
SHEIRYou too can join our conversation. Do you tell people to have a nice day? Why do you do it? Do you like it when people say it to you? Do you even mean it? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Our handle is @kojoshow. So Todd, you entered the field of what you call positive Psychology more than a decade ago. And back then, it was just getting its legs, really.
SHEIRSo first, can we establish what you mean by positive psychology? Since many of us associate psychologists, I think, with trying to fix negative feelings. So, what does that mean?
KASHDANSure. Well, it -- the term, the term was developed in 1998, which was essentially, how do we allocate resources to studying what people care about most about? Creativity, love, how do you maintain passion in long term relationships? How do you develop positive experiences, create a world of compassion and empathy and take perspectives of other people? Increase positive emotions, but this has actually been one of the very first missions of psychology since the beginning of the 20th century.
KASHDANAnd really, when we coined the term, pos-psychology -- when I say we, not myself, it's really talking about we're not devoting enough -- we're devoting tons of resources to reducing pathology, reducing the rate of depression, suicidality, and anxiety disorders. But what about the things we care most about? And if we could rid the world of schizophrenia and eating disorders and emotional problems, would we really be flourishing? Would everyone be happy? Would people be great parents?
KASHDANAnd the answer is we're not sure. We actually need to study what makes a great parent and what makes a great romantic partner. What makes a great friend.
SHEIRI want to bring up, for a moment, your co-author, Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener. He's been called the Indiana Jones of positive Psychology. How did he get that name?
KASHDANOh, he earned this. I mean, you know, we just got back from Dubai together where we gave a five day workshop. And, you know, one of the first stories he tells is being with the Maasai tribe in Africa when he was just a teenager. And the only -- so what he wanted to do is study happiness with the Maasai tribe. And they wouldn't listen to him, because here he is, a gringo, with a bunch of people that nobody speaks English. The translator, every time he translated, all, he had the Maasai tribe laughing at him.
KASHDANAnd Robert, being, you know, kind of like a testosterone laden teenager with pimples all over his face, was saying, let me prove my worth to you so I can earn your respect. And they said, well, can you catch a lion? And he said, well, not really. Is there a second route? And they basically said, well, you can do this tribal ritual where we will actually brand you, but if you flinch or move, you show that you're not brave. And he actually, I don't know why, he should be here instead of me.
KASHDANSo, as his fan and co-author, I will tell you that he can whip out his shirt and he has a brand where he did not flinch, not even a nostril while they branded him in public view of the entire Maasai tribe. And after that, there was a line of people answering his questions about happiness.
KASHDANIndiana Jones. He deserves it.
SHEIRSo you're a leader in this field of positive psychology. And yet, you found yourself turned off by these constant reminders that positivity and feeling good are good for us. In your book, you even, you call it gung-ho happy-ology and my favorite, smiling fascism. So, how do we see this kind of happy-ology manifesting itself in our everyday lives?
KASHDANWell, let me start by saying, because the callers are going to be very contentious if I don't give the caveat, which is we're not saying positive emotions, love, compassion, gratitude, are bad things. We're saying is if you think that the panacea for life's ills is a yoga class and meditation, you're wrong. This science will show otherwise. And if you don't think that there's a place for anger, anxiety, disgust, guilt, embarrassment, social anxiety, narcissism, mindlessness, then you are not accessing all the tools that are at your disposal.
KASHDANAnd you are not going to be as successful as someone that's more comfortable with the parts of yourself that cause -- as you said in the beginning, are a little bit icky. Are a little bit uncomfortable. We don't talk about in polite company about our grandiose narcissistic visions, but if you talk to an entrepreneur one on one, and they don't talk about their grandiose vision, you might ask yourself, why are you going to take a job that's paying you 15,000 dollars a year when it sounds as if you're going to be impoverished for the next 10?
SHEIRWell, you argue that one source of our unhappiness comes from emotional time travel errors. What do you mean by that?
KASHDANEssentially, almost every one of us makes our decisions about what we're going to do in the future based on how we think we're going to feel. And so, I even call this perverted emotional time travel, just to be more provocative. Essentially, we think that if we go to Hawaii for our vacation with our kids, we're going to be happier than if we go to Toledo. And if we buy a five bedroom house, even though we'll be really stretching our funds to capacity. We're going to be what's called house poor. We'll be so happy as a family, and so content that we don't need those dinners out.
KASHDANWe don't need babysitters. We don't need massages. We don't need to do anything because the five of us will be together in this large house with no money and we'll be content. And what we forget to think about is a lot of the things that make us happy are things that often -- that we can't predict ahead of time what they're going to make us feel. If everyone made decisions based on what they're going to, what they're going to feel like in the future, what they would realize is it rarely lives up to expectations.
KASHDANAnd the reason is we don't think about, when we buy that house, who's the neighbors to the left and right of me? Are they a drummer? Do they hang around too often? When I come home from work and I'm tired and I want to see my romantic partner, do they stop and ask me to come inside for pumpernickel bread and talk about the weather? And the Washington Redskins for three and a half hours, never asking that I really don't watch TV. And I don't care about sports.
KASHDANAnd so, we don't, we don't put that into the equation, and thus our emotions are -- our future prediction about our emotions are a very bad predictor of how well we're going to feel and how much meaning we're going to get from what's going to happen in the future, based on those decisions.
SHEIRSo we're miscalculating.
KASHDANWe're miscalculating big time. You know, one of the most toxic ideas in psychology that infects the self-help book market and infects people that are trying to be happy, is this idea, it's particularly western, of try to feel good and don't feel bad. And that idea is so toxic, because it's as if we have control over our emotions, as if the thermostat in our house. I could turn it to 77 degrees, nice and balmy, a few clouds, sunny day, and keep it there in perpetuity for every single moment of my life.
KASHDANAnd just imagine if a farmer had that perspective, which is I want to have the perfect, sunny day, no rain, no winds, just no heat, and just go to the exact same weather every day. They'd have no crops. They need the change in the seasons. And the same way, we need to recognize that depending on the situation we're in, we often need emotional experiences and behaviors that deviate tremendously from kindness, compassion and positivity.
SHEIRSo, let's zero in on that. And what it is that's so beneficial about feeling bad sometimes. How does research support the idea that negative feelings can be just as good for you as positive ones?
KASHDANSo, let me play with that question this way. I'm gonna pose a number of questions, and each one of these, the answer is something other than feeling happy. So, which emotional state is best, in terms of trying to persuade someone with a message or an idea or a political position you have? Which emotional state are you better at detecting deception? Or that someone's lying? Which emotional state is best to try to motivate other people, to stimulate more effort and increase their performance? To get more concessions in a tough negotiation with people?
KASHDANTo increase the likelihood that someone will help you during times of need. To increase and push people to conformity, so that people are willing to accept the mission that you might have for a company. To try, to try to reduce the likelihood that you're going to be gullible when someone else tries to persuade you with your message. In every one of those situations, when you're a little bit unhappy, pushed a tiny bit toward sadness, you are more effective than when you're happy.
SHEIRThat reminds me of a piece you had recently in New York Magazine, you and your co-author. It was called "Grumpy People Get the Details Right."
KASHDANYeah. So, if the task requires out of the box thinking and creativity, go for happiness. Play, you know, play Radiohead, give people lollipops and then, you know, just be kooky around the office place. But if the goal is detailed, analytic thinking is necessary, think accountants, think around March when people are thinking about how do I write off taxes? How do I, how do I find an accountant and how do I make sure that all of my papers are in order, in terms of, is my car -- do I need a car inspection?
KASHDANHave my kids gotten their measles shots? For all of those details, when we're in a happy state, we have this -- we have this automatic response, which is things are really good right now. Why would I want to change them? And we're less motivated to devote effort towards anything that pushes into a place that deviates from feeling good.
SHEIRSo I should be looking for a grumpy lawyer, a grumpy accountant.
KASHDANAir traffic control tower, stewardess, pilot, absolutely.
SHEIRWow. Well, we are talking with Todd Kashdan, professor of Clinical Psychology, George Mason University. Co-author of "The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self, Not Just Your Good Self, Drives Success and Fulfillment." Do you ever mentally berate yourself in order to push yourself beyond your limits? Why do you do it? Join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850. So is the key here to being happy, being grumpy all the time, or do we need to know when to deploy that grumpiness?
KASHDANYeah, I'm glad you asked this, because let's, let's, let's add on to the caveat in the beginning of this interview. Which is, we're pushing for emotional and social agility. We're not pushing for negativity. And we're not pushing for let's hide from positivity. Most of the time, being in a happy state, being kind, compassionate, loving, this is the place to being. But a large number of predictable ways, we want to deviate from that. The idea is can you be situationally aware?
KASHDANYou know, I have twin seven-year-old girls. And I've trained them, since the age of five, they know the word context. Now, they're -- obviously kids of a psychologist, but they know that with me, they can punch me, they could even use -- I know that parents will call in and tell me I'm a horrible parent. They can use profanity around me. They can watch "The Walking Dead," as long as they close their eyes at the appropriate scenes. Not season five, but season one they can watch, when it was less gruesome and cannibalism wasn't part of the plot line.
KASHDANAnd they know when we're riding bikes, when it's a large hill and they get upset and whiny, because, you know, they're seven-year-olds and they cry and the waterfalls, you know, they come. I often remind them, listen, get angry. Think of all the times that you couldn't stand me. The teachers that you didn't want to do any more homework. You were tired in class, but they pushed you to work harder. Think of them, imagine them, get angry, and push up the hill. And they know this. They're using this as a tool.
KASHDANNot to become angry people, not to become, you know, future Dexters of the world. Showtime serial killers. But just to use this emotional state to psyche them up a little bit further to get up that hill. And then we slap five and we're chilling and we're happy and cheerful as we glide down the hill at 40 miles per hour.
SHEIRBut how do we train ourselves to use our negative feelings and emotions most effectively? How do we know when to turn on the grump, when to maybe dial it down a little bit or dial it up?
KASHDANIt's a great question. So science has given us some very good answers, so let's stay with anger and grumpiness and being pissed, annoyed and frustrated for an example. So we know that if you express your anger about the situation that bothers you or what someone did but not the person, right, not the ad-hominem, it's extremely effective. As soon as you direct towards the person of, I don't like you, I don't like the way you act towards people, I don't think you're respectful, as soon as you move towards the person, the effectiveness of expressing anger gets diminished precipitously.
KASHDANWhen our anger is -- when our expressions of anger are way out of line with the problem that we're facing or the obstacle that's getting in the way of what we care about. So if I'm upset because someone leaves their gum in the water fountain and I rip out the water fountain and then put it in the cubicle of the person who did it, obviously everyone's going to say, listen, I need to have a restraining order for Todd. He shouldn't be near me. He shouldn't be near my kids. I don't even want to see a face of him. I'm scared.
KASHDANBut if I take that piece of gum and keep a place on the wall and I write their name in staying, this is what I found in the water fountain this week, and bring them over and saying, listen, this is the kind of thing that will infect other people. We don't know what you eat. We don't know who you kiss. This bothers us. Can you please stop putting all of this garbage -- this is one week's worth of garbage. Yes, I'm annoyed beyond belief. There's a playfulness, there's anger there. And that's going to be more effective. Now if I do this in public, it won't be effective. If I do this one on one it'll be more effective.
KASHDANAnd we also know that unfortunately when women engage in the same expression of anger, it's often less effective than men. And that's kind of the remnants of having a little bit of a sexist world in the United States.
SHEIROh, wow. We will return to that after the break. We are talking with Todd Kashdan, professor of clinical psychology at George Mason. He's the co-author of "The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self -- Not Just Your Good Self -- Drives Success and Fulfillment." So we turn to you. Do you believe we live in a society dominated by happy-ology? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Tweet us @kojoshow. Send us an email to email@example.com. I'm Rebecca Sheir sitting in for Kojo. We'll be back.
SHEIRWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Sheir sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" and talking with Todd Kashdan about his new book "The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self -- Not Just Your Good Self -- Drives Success and Fulfillment." You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850, sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or sending us a tweet @kojoshow.
SHEIRI want to turn now to mindfulness versus mindlessness. We brought that up a little bit before. You mentioned Yoga and meditation and we have a tweet from a listener sort of coming to the defense of Yoga and meditation. "They actually encourage people to acknowledge and accept all emotions, not just the good ones." What do you think of that?
KASHDANThat's great. And that's -- when you think about when the west started importing Yoga and meditation from the east, that was the original Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and his first ideas. I mean, that's exactly what they were talking about. What you tend to see now is particularly emphasized by mindfulness-based stress reduction, is people use mindfulness as a strategy to feel less overwhelmed, to feel less anxious, to feel less depressed.
KASHDANNow mindfulness has just become another tool just like Zoloft, Wellbutrin, excessive exercising, sex, promiscuous sexual behavior, drinking or any other behavior that's to cope with negative emotions. As soon as you use mindfulness as a tool to try getting back that toxic idea, try to feel good and run away from feeling bad, it become problematic. And mindfulness can be used as a strategy to try not to feel stress. When it's used, as the person who tweeted, used mindfulness it's effective. But the majority of people who are being exposed to it is -- this is a way for me to get out.
KASHDANAnd here's the interesting thing. The science backs up what I'm saying, is 2014 early this year Journal of the JAMA, which is the most prestigious journal in medicine, 47 clinical trials of mindfulness-based stress reduction. So people that have never done this before trained in this. The effective benefits on stress, recovering from difficulties, anxiety, depression, eating healthier, it was no better than any other active of -- not better than exercise, not better than diet, not better than a placebo, not better than an antidepressant.
KASHDANAnd so the love of mindfulness outstrips what the evidence actually shows.
SHEIRSo then what role does mindlessness say? What is happening in your brain there that can be beneficial for you?
KASHDANWell, one of the things is when you talk to people that are mindfulness aficionados, right, this is the front cover of Huffington Post every single day, Time magazine, Newsweek. They often think that this is what separates us from other animals, you know, other social species, is that we can reach this higher plain of consciousness, to be open and receptive in the present moment with the attitude of curiosity towards whatever unfolds.
KASHDANAnd there's another view which is what separates us from other animals is not these higher plains of consciousness. It's just that so many mental exercise and activities have been pushed outside the confines of conscious awareness where this is happening beneath the surface. And I don't have to pay attention to the fact of retrieving information from my brain to have this conversation and extemporaneously respond to people that are going to tweet who disagree with what I have to say.
KASHDANAnd, at the same time, drink a glass of water, look at the beautiful skyline outside and, you know, just be here, be present. All of this mental activity can happen while I'm fully here with you right now. And we often forget, if I had to be mindful every time that my wife asked me to pick up maxi pads from the supermarket, of everyone's facial expression and each food as it -- the pressure of my foot from the heel down to the toes and how the cashier was looking at me and how it felt to have this big package of non-masculine goods in my hand, I would find that to be an atrocious experience.
KASHDANAnd why would you want to be mindful on the Metro at 3:00 in the morning or in Grand Central Station as you have to go to the bathroom, you have to use one of these bathrooms that are being taken care of by someone that's paid $4.80 an hour. And you know it's not clean. I don't want to be mindful there.
SHEIRBut also, what about those moments where, you know, you're struck by this genius in the shower because you're not thinking about the perfect wording for that presentation you're giving tomorrow, but then it comes to you when you're mindless?
KASHDANDriving here I have no idea -- the GPS led me straight here someway somehow. And what it was -- I listened to particular music where it invites me into an atmospheric state -- Explosions in the Sky is the name of the band -- and ideas collide, just as you're describing.
KASHDANYou know, lucid dreaming when we're in a dream state, when we're not being -- when we're bored. What happens when our mind -- when we stop using so much effortful activity of concentrating and to conscious -- to be in the present moment. And we really let go and let our mind do the work behind the scenes, it's like creating the perfect intellectual smoothie.
KASHDANAll of a sudden ideas about Aztec mythology, which came up during our Scrabble family game last night, and ideas about mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn and then ideas about, you know, "The Walking Dead," which I just watched the episode on Sunday, which was amazing. All these three things collide and something really creative happens. And sometimes nonsense happens. It's just interesting bar conversation. And that's the beauty of appreciating the imaginatory powers of being outside of a mindful state where you're always in control.
SHEIRSo your book is called "The Upside of Your Dark Side." And we have a caller here with a question sort of related to that. Let's turn to Brandon now. Brandon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRANDONThank you. I really find this topic interesting. The question I have is like two parts. So what is the best way that you kind of find to introduce this concept into your daily practices, Specifically the negativity aspect? The challenge that comes to mind stems from the phrase, perception is reality where it seems that being grumpy, even for a good reason like taking that gum in the water fountain example, could be misinterpreted and have adverse affects, like, when working with peers.
KASHDANIt's a great question. Well, one thing to be very clear is we're not talking about becoming an angry person, a neurotic person, a narcissistic person or an entitled person. We're talking about when emotions are invited that come to the forefront that deviate from positivity. And I'm upset because of the way someone speaks to me. I feel as if I'm being disrespected. I might be a woman in the workplace wondering, why am I making 13 cents on a dollar less than the person next to me in the cubicle?
KASHDANIf I don't express those negative emotions towards my manager, if I don't express those negative emotions towards my romantic partner who I feel as if is treating me as for taking me for granted and making me second fiddle, not just of our kids, which they actually should potentially make me second fiddle, but to their friends, texting them in the middle of a date. If I don't express those feelings, how can I ever expect their behavior to change to be more adaptive towards our relationship?
KASHDANSo if you think about it, one way in my daily life is thinking, do these negative emotions I'm experiencing and the behaviors its motivating me to engage in, so anger motivates me to want to alter the opposite goal that's in the way of the goals that I care about. So let's take the example of my wife texting in the middle of the dinner -- and Sarah, I know you're listening and I know this is directed towards you -- if I don't express my disappointment about that, how could I ever expect her to alter her behavior?
KASHDANAnd the key about making this work in my daily practice is explaining the why. I'm upset but it's not because -- it's because our quality time is so important to me. We're balancing so many things in our lives that when we're together I want us to be fully present. So the anger is serving the higher function of actually a more compassionate caring intimate relationship. And I think if you think about it as change the question, instead of asking in moments how does this make me feel, ask how can I put this to work towards the goals I care about? You can use this effectively in your daily life.
SHEIRSo in that sense we're separating the experience of negative feelings from the expression of them?
KASHDANIn many ways, yes, but in other places sometimes we use emotions strategically to put us in a motivational set that we can function at our best. And so I would ask you and the listeners, right, do you know what emotional state are you best at when you're writing, are you best at when you're creative, are you best at when you're in tough negotiations with your romantic partner versus your friend, versus your co-workers. How do you -- what's the best emotional state in terms of altering a meeting -- an administrative meeting such that to make it more valuable and meaningful the conversation that you're having?
KASHDANAnd if you don't know, start experimenting because sometimes it's not happy. Sometimes it's anxious. Sometimes it's anxiety, sometimes it's guilt, sometimes it's anger, sometimes it's disgust. And we can express these things at low levels. I can express my disgust towards somebody without making, you know, Bill Cosby or a two-year-old's overly -- you know, overly expressive facial expression, you know, when someone says something that I don't like. I can just say, like, that doesn't work for me. I'm expressing disgust in a low-grade way.
SHEIRWe have from Patrice who says, "Finding my shadow, my dark side liberated my creative side and helped me tame vicious self-criticism." Could you talk about that connection then, how creativity and artistic liberation can come in here?
KASHDANThere's no question about it. So let me first play with the myth of creativity which is during these states of inner turmoil and distress and despair and -- you know, this is when people are at their best creative. What we know from studying, you know, composers and writers and architects with -- that have gone through the pits of despair with actual depressive problems or anxiety problems or suicidal thoughts is, when they come out of these states and feel healthy again they're able to pull from those moments and those weeks and months when they were in despair and see the relativity between what it's like to feel healthy and feel comfortable in your skin.
KASHDANAnd what it's like to feel the pain, the shared pain that every human being has at every point in their life. The relativity between those states is the seize of incredible creativity for an artist.
SHEIRLet's turn back to the phones. We have Ray calling from Ocean City. Ray, you're on the air.
RAYGood. I'm glad you can hear me. I have an -- well, I agree with what he just said, you know, absolutely. I think a lot of people are very creative, you know, when they come out of that moment of despair in their lives. My son, for instance, is in a state mental hospital in Virginia. And he was -- before that, you know, he had a car accident back in 2009 and started having episodes and starting writing songs and music as a result of that. It just kind of came out of the blue. And right now he even writes while he's in the hospital right now.
RAYAnd I think moments when he comes out of that despair and depression that he's in is his greatest work. It kind of just happens. You know, so I think it's a very interesting comment and I agree with that.
KASHDANAnd you sound like such a great father because what I love about your description is, you're not overly defining your son by any mental malady that he's gone through, right. He -- and that's kind of one of the messages of this book is, we don't have to define ourselves by our stress and adversity and hardships that we face. We can look at these things often, often as springboards to higher peaks. And even in the midst of his song being through this distressful period and whatever psychological difficulties he's facing, you can still create. You do not have to wait until you're mentally healthy to create great work.
KASHDANAnd if you do wait, you wait until the loneliness subsides, the anxiety subsides, the anger subsides, you're going to be on your deathbed with some great ideas that the world never got exposed to.
SHEIRThanks for calling, Ray.
RAYAbsolutely. Thank you.
SHEIRRight. So all of this positivity that we're talking about, it also manifests itself in the ways we avoid discomfort. We do anything we can do to stay away from it. In the book you point to our use of antibacterial soap and the Purell stuff to prevent getting sick. We love express lanes to help us get places faster. We've got all this tech that helps us multitask. On one hand, this is progress but on the other hand, isn't this an example of avoiding discomfort?
KASHDANIn many cases it is. I mean, one thing that my research lab -- and this builds off of Steven Hayes' research at the University of Nevada or Reno -- is if you want to distinguish between what is the difference between someone that's psychologically healthy and someone that has an anxiety disorder? And people always thought, well, it must be that the people with anxiety problems have more anxiety in daily life and more anxiety in their social interactions.
KASHDANAnd so we did a study where we took people in the community and we had them carry around these already antiquated palm pilots. And we beeped them annoyingly six to eight times per day. And we figured that we would find that people that suffer from excessive social anxiety, the fear of being judged by other people in social interactions, they would be by definition more anxious in social situations. And that's not what we found.
KASHDANWe found that healthy people, people with social anxiety problems all experience the same amount of anxiety in their social interactions. The different was, the people with anxiety problems, suffering from this, needing mental health services, they were less willing to be in contact with their anxious thoughts and feelings. They were trying to eliminate them, trying to get rid of them. And what we know from science is that you cannot unlearn something. You can't suppress your thoughts and feelings because they bounce back harder. Your relationship with them is even stronger.
KASHDANIf I was in this meeting and the entire time I was thinking to myself, don't say um, don't use any verbal graffiti, try to make sure that nothing but actual human words in the dictionary appear, I would be so focused on the syntax of what I was talking about, I'd never have any substance. I would be so focused on the way that I was talking, I wouldn't be able to relate to you or the callers or get the message across.
KASHDANBut there's another piece of this. When we try to feel good and try not to feel bad, we end up not feeling anything at all. And these people with anxiety problems, yes, they experience the same amount of anxiety as people that were healthy but the dark side was they experience substantially fewer positive emotions with other people, less compassion, less gratitude, less joy, less enthusiasm. So trying to feel less anxious, so that you can relate to other people, ends up having the exact opposite affect where you actually feel less positive emotions.
KASHDANYou connect with people less. There's less intimate conversation, less shared laughter. And so if we let go of the message of trying not to feel bad, we'll actually start to feel better and we'll actually start to have more meaningful relationships and more meaning in our lives.
SHEIRSo with apologies to Bobby McFerrin, Don't Worry, Be Happy should be off the airwaves from now on?
KASHDANIt should be banned. It should be with the Sex Pistols and their, you know, anarchy of the UK and we should have steamrolling those -- yes, those records, not just for the sound but for the lyrics.
SHEIRTime for a break now. We're talking with Todd Kashdan, professor of clinical psychology at George Mason University. He's the co-author of "The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self -- Not Just Your Good Self -- Drives Success and Fulfillment." We would love for you to join the conversation. Is living in the moment hard for you to do? And do you believe we live in a society dominated by happyology? You can join the conversation at 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com or send us a tweet. Our handle is @kojoshow. I'm Rebecca Sheir sitting in for Kojo. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Stay with us.
SHEIRWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Sheir sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Todd Kashdan about his new book, "The Upside of Your Dark Side," why being your whole self, not just your good self, drives success and fulfillment. Do you think your negative experiences have contributed to making you a better, even happier person? Give us a call 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Before the break, we were talking about this idea of avoiding discomfort. So I wonder if you would touch, Todd, on how parents avoid discomfort for their kids and how that might affect their children in the long run?
KASHDANYeah, the terminology keeps on changing. The last word I heard -- I just went to a parent-teacher conference before this -- is snowplow parents. And so it keeps on getting more and more intense.
SHEIRI heard helicopter parents.
KASHDANNo, now it's...
SHEIRNow we're in snowplows?
KASHDAN...snowplows are more dangerous than helicopters.
KASHDANAnd so we have this very interesting paradox where parents really want their kids to be intellectually challenged in the classroom, pushing for, can I get my kid in the gifted classroom? Can I get them in SAT prep courses, even though they're six years old, they don't even have hair in their armpits? And can I push them in -- is there any chance that I can get one of those kids where they start college at age 12? And so you have this incredible push to be, you know, intellectual giants. And yet there's this blind spot where parents don't want the same for their social life. Or they want these very prepackaged, planned play dates with kids that look like them, with other parents that think like them.
KASHDANAnd there's this interesting thing, where we know that as you restrict your social relationships to be around people that are like you, think like you, from the same socio-economic status as you, you end up having this great solidarity or this in group, this small friendship circle. But you're also incredibly intolerant and less open to experiences to other people that don't think like you, don't look like you. And, you know, it's harder to take their perspectives. When we train our kids to have safe social interactions with few people and few friends, they become psychologically weaker in terms of having a harder time relating to kids that aren't like them.
KASHDANAnd so it's an important scientific message to pass on to parents. Because I think when saying this, most parents say, I want my kid to be able to take the perspective of a kid in Guyana who only has one parent and is basically living on 88 cents a month for food and immunizations. And I went them to be open to experiences, not just watch MSNBC or Fox News, but watch both, neither, and be exposed to everything possible. So what can I do? And what we're saying is, let them experience the hardships, the sadness, the loneliness, the difficulties, the gossip of relating to other people and the rejection that all of us went through. Because those growing pains is how they develop social skills.
SHEIRLet's turn now to the phones. We have Tim calling from Fairfax. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMHi. Thank you for taking my call and thank you for an incredibly wonderful show.
TIMVery though provoking. As a parent of two 20-something daughters, I have to say that I absolutely do not want them to suffer. And yet, what I -- the message that I'm hearing is that suffering is really something we need to embrace as part of life, as a teacher. It teaches us things. I have a daughter who's a PhD student up at Dartmouth studying neuroscience and she's extremely anxious about finishing the program and getting a job and life in general. And as a parent, I don't, you know, I always try and calm her down and, as you said, make her feel better. When, in fact, what I'm hearing is, she needs to feel these things in order to grow and learn.
KASHDANWell, listen, if your daughter is in Dartmouth getting her PhD and you're doing great. And she's -- clearly she's been through tons of academic difficulties, social difficulties already. Let me just make two small comments. One is to separate the different between pain and suffering. So I'm suggesting that there's a benefit in pain but not for suffering. And the way I define suffering is, pain and non-acceptance equals suffering. And I think we can experience pain and be open to it, and thus we could have that without suffering. I mean, we're -- every one of us is going to feel lonely. And the worst loneliness is not when we're by ourselves. It's when we're with other people and we don't feel a sense of belonging.
KASHDANAnd we're going to feel like imposters. Here I am on this radio show right now, of, you know, why -- I know so many distinguished scientists, so many great writers, and here I am with Rebecca in the studio and I'm like, you know, what on earth? I still feel like a 17-year-old kid who skipped class. And the teacher said, listen, you now can't go to track practice. You know, why am I on this radio show? So we all have this imposter syndrome. We all have a sense of self-doubt. We all don't feel as if we're living up to expectations every once in a while. And if I stopped every time I had these feelings, I would never write books. I would never -- definitely not write blog posts, with all the trolls that chase after me. The world is full of critics and haters. And you go back to Teddy Roosevelt, and I'll just brief -- where he talks about, it's about daring greatly.
KASHDANIt's about getting in the arena, getting marred with dust and dirt, and doing battle with the things that you care about most, even if you feel upset and you're unsure of yourself. As opposed to being the critic who sits by watching, waiting for you to fail so they have something to say. And I think there's a message of, we can have -- take the perspective of our kids and hold them and say, "I can feel what you're experiencing. Who wouldn't feel that way?" without trying to make that pain go away.
TIMWell, just from a personal perspective, can I please just add, earlier this year I was diagnosed as ADD. And prior to that, everyone knew me as Flanders from "The Simpsons." I was an okelie-dokelie, happy -- everything was happy. Everything was joyful. And it was just a, you know, I recognize it as a coping mechanism or a strategy, if you will. But I -- what I'm hearing from you is that there are other strategies and some more, much more effective. After getting on medication, I found that I tended to be more assertive. And people didn't necessarily relate to me the same way. But I was more effective. So not really grumpy, not angry, but just, you know, assertive. And so I so appreciate what you're doing. And at, you know, at the risk reverting back to Flanders, thank you so much for the work you do and for sharing it with everyone.
KASHDANOh, no, no. And thank you. And I would be remiss if I didn't say two things. One is, there's such strength and vulnerability of you even revealing that you're on a medication, which I think so many people hide that. And, again, by suppressing that, people never get to really know what they're going through. And what we know is, when people share their pain with another person, that level of intimacy leads to such a quick expansion and growth and commitment in a relationship than any other thing that you can share with another person. But the other part of that is, is that you can have both. Right? This is a book -- this is a book, an idea about, why do we have to choose? This is about improv -- yes, and.
KASHDANAbout you can have the positive emotions and be kind and compassionate, and yet know what are the situations where it is not only okay -- and this is about giving a license. I want stay-at-home parents to take time so that they are selfish. They are selfish. They will pamper themselves, ignore their kids, get some babysitters and take care of themselves. And when you talked about when you started to become assertive, when you took medication, I spent years treating people -- because I'm a clinical psychologist -- who suffered from depression and anxiety, and what often happened when people with depression came out of it and became healthy is, they could no longer relate to their partners.
KASHDANBecause their partners always decided where they went to dinner, where they went on the weekend. They were like, "Who's this new person? What do you mean, you want to have Chinese food on Tuesday? I decide what we eat." And they had a hard time negotiating that. And I'm so glad that you shared your story. I think it's an important one.
TIMWell, thank you.
SHEIRThank you for calling, Tim. Now, we're going to turn to Kathy. Kathy is calling from Clifton, Va. Kathy, go ahead, please.
KATHYHi. Thanks for taking my call. There's so much good stuff here. I loved the conversation about kids and letting them sort of explore beyond the known world that you live in. But the reason that I'm calling is I'm an integrative life coach and I'm coached on the word of a woman named Debbie Ford, who wrote a lot of wonderful books. But the reason we call it an integrative coach is because it's all about embracing the totality of who you are, both the dark and the light.
KATHYAnd how, if we don't accept those qualities in us that we consider to be dark or wrong or bad -- and some of those are things that society just determines that are bad and some of it are things that as children we learn are "bad," quote, unquote, from our parents -- but until we can embrace those qualities and accept that they are a part of who we are, we're going to do our best to show the world that we're the opposite. And the problem with that is that we lose our authenticity at that moment. So really this discussion goes very far. And I'm so glad that you've written this book. That until we can embrace both the "positive," quote, unquote, and the "negative," quote, unquote, we lose our ability to be authentic in the world.
KATHYAnd when we're not authentic, we really have very little chance at finding happiness and fulfillment. So, yay to authenticity.
KASHDANAnd, no. And thank you. And you are my neighbor in Clifton, Va. And let me just add one word to that -- which everything you said, absolutely agreed. If you see me in the studio, I have my shirt off and I'm just nodding to you right now. You know, besides just accepting these parts of our personality, to go one step further is actually harnessing them -- intentionally, sometimes, harnessing these...
KASHDAN...emotionally uncomfortable and often unaccepted by society parts of our personality -- where sometimes it's good to be selfish, it's good to be narcissistic and it's good to be Machiavellian -- not as a person, but as a behavioral strategy in certain situations.
KATHYMm-hmm. We have an expression that we use is, if -- what that -- what you can't be with, won't let you be. And what you were saying about the more that you deny something, the stronger it's going to come back at you -- I actually, you know, work with clients and say to them, "Embrace the anger. Be gentle with it. Give it love. Just be with it. It's okay." And as you just said, every quality is in us because it's necessary. There's a situation where every quality is, you know, is useful. It's just, you know, sometimes getting a handle if we're, you know, we can only get a handle on it, once we accept it and acknowledge that there is always a positive use for it.
SHEIRThe upside of your dark side.
KASHDANI'm so glad I beat you to writing this book.
SHEIRKathy, thank you so much for giving us a call.
SHEIRSo, Todd, earlier you mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. And he was a great president. Can you read a bit from the chapter where you talk about him? He was someone who was able to tap his good side and his dark side in order to be that great president, that effective leader.
KASHDANYou know, this is great, since now there are no book store, there are no book readings. So we're bringing this back, right here, right now. And Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite president.
KASHDAN"Can you imagine Barack Obama, or any head of state for that matter, sneaking away from his security team to grab some private time? In this safety-conscious age, it's hard to picture. But that's exactly what Teddy Roosevelt did in 1903, only two years into his first term as president. While on an official visit to Yosemite National Park, he abandoned his retinue and stole away with a couple of park rangers, and none other than John Muir. Muir spent much of their time together advocating for greater governmental preservation of wild lands.
KASHDAN"They spent the night among the sequoia trees and ventured to the magnificent precipice of Glacier Point, before Roosevelt rejoined his bewildered staff in the hotel on the valley floor below, now known as the greatest camping trip in history. Roosevelt's ability to breach protocol was instrumental in what would later become wide-ranging legislation protecting wilderness areas. If you think this act of rebelliousness and entitlement was a fluke, think again. In the modern era, can you imagine a government leader swimming naked in the Potomac River, the backyard of the White House, to stay physically and mentally fit in the winter time?
KASHDAN"Teddy knew how to manipulate his public image in other people. When William McKinley ran for president in 1900, he picked Teddy to be his running mate. They won. And when President McKinley was assassinated, the world waited for Teddy to take the reins of power. The world would have to wait longer than intended because Teddy happened to be out of reach, rock-climbing in Upstate New York. Teddy had an inflated view of his superiority and potential for greatness and felt he deserved special treatment. The world needs more Teddys, and not because we need more nudity in the Potomac."
SHEIRYou say there are three parts of what you call the Teddy Effect. What are they?
KASHDANSo you have three parts. And one is Machiavellianism, which in a brief, is about being emotionally detached when making everyday decisions. The other one is -- and the media loves psycopathy, right? And Dexter is sort of my exemplar of this, is of the serial killer who is psychopathic, but he has very clear rules. If anyone has watched the Showtime show which is, yes, he's a serial killer. Yes, we don't want our kids to grow up to be Dexter. But he would only kill people that went through the legal system and, on some technicality, they were let off and still a danger to society.
KASHDANSo he was able to satisfy his lust for violence and for, you know, for lacking in empathy and remorse, and yet still ending up like a "useful member of society." We'll put that in quotes. The third, I think the most interesting -- especially when it comes to Teddy -- is narcissism, where you have a sense of grandiosity almost as if you have super powers. You're better than other people. There's a sense of entitlement. I'm not going to talk to the waitress if I have a problem with my meal, I'm going to talk to the manager, or maybe the CEO. Why would this franchise even be enough to satisfy my needs? They're just minions.
KASHDANAnd then you have this other part, which is trying to be aggressive and a sense of rivalry, which is, I want supremacy over other people in whatever domain is important to me. And those three, psycopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism, is what we call the dark triad.
SHEIRAnd if we find the right way to use those, we can be happier people.
KASHDANWell, there's some really cool stuff. If you think about narcissism, you know, people that have this striving to be unique, this grandiose vision, they're the type of people that -- their charisma and self-assuredness -- they attract people. And people are just fanatic to be around them.
SHEIRWell, Todd Kashdan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I'm Rebecca Sheir sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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