- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Avery (September 25, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594631735
- ISBN-13: 978-1594631733
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 141 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #621,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hardcover – September 25, 2014
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This book is extremely well written and an easy and enjoyable read. It makes intuitive sense and I think will appeal to reasonable people who are tired of the happiness and mindfulness fads.
The authors offer a number of examples about the value of so-called negative states. Too much comfort makes us oversensitive to inevitable discomfort. Anger motivates us to act, fix injustices, and defend ourselves and our loved ones; guilt tells us when we've screwed up and motivates us to improve our behavior; anxiety helps us catch mistakes and take safeguards against risks. Happy people are less persuasive, can be too trusting, and are lazier thinkers. Intentionally trying to become happy easily backfires and makes us less happy; and there are situations where happiness feels inappropriate and will make others respond worse to you. Sometimes it's better to act on instinct or engage in mind-wandering than to always be mindful and think things through consciously. The "dark triad" traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy are all useful in moderation and provide benefits such as fearlessness and self-assuredness.
The following paragraph from the final chapter is a pretty good summary of the book's message:
"The basic idea is that psychological states are instrumental. That is, they are useful for a specific purpose, such as finding your car keys, being physically safe in a parking garage, negotiating a business deal, or arguing with your child’s teacher. Rather than viewing your thoughts and feelings as reactions to external events, we argue that you ought to view these states as tools to be used as circumstances warrant. Simply put, quit labeling your inner states as good or bad or positive or negative, and start thinking of them as useful or not useful for any given situation."
While I liked the book's message and agreed with many of its points, I felt like it was mostly trying to tell a story that sounds plausible to a layman, rather than making a particularly rigorous argument. The authors tend to base their claims on isolated studies with no mention of their replication status; some of their example studies draw on paradigms and methods that have been seriously challenged (social priming and implicit association tests); occasionally they made claims that I thought contradicted things I knew from elsewhere; and some of the cited empirical results seem to have alternative interpretations that are more natural than the ones offered in the book. It's plausible that they are drawing on much more rigorous academic work and that the argument has been dumbed down for a popular audience: even granting them the benefit of doubt, the book still feels way too much like a collection of examples that have been cherry-picked to make the wanted points.
Regardless, the book's general message feels almost certainly correct - after all, why would we have evolved negative states if they weren't sometimes useful? - so if anyone feels like they've been overwhelmed with too many messages of positivity, I would recommend this book for inspiration and an alternative viewpoint, if not for any of its specific details.
Somehow the balance has been lost between having feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety on one hand, and joy, contentment, enthusiasm, gratitude on the other. Feelings that indicate we're not feeling so great have fallen out of favor. The pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.
I so apprciate this readable, research-rich and yet practical book because it reminds (and convinces) us that the pendulum needs to swing freely. There is a reason we have all the emotions we have and being a fully functioning human means accepting that feelings and moods hold information about how the world impacts us, positively or negatively. Isn't being agile always the ideal way to respond? Whether in sports, in performance - either on stage or at work - we want to be able to pivot, deflect or push back depending on context.
Both authors are scientists and have spent many years exploring well-being. They have not written this book to overturn all they have learned and shared. They are not abandoning the centrality of happiness to the good life, they are adding richness to it. The authors are great story-tellers and creatively illustrate their point of view by exploring Teddy Roosevelt, superheros, the importance of mindlessness and much more. I found it an unusually interesting journey.
Whether you ally yourself with positive psychology or not, you will be challenged to think, learn about yourself, and maybe even re-think some of your beliefs.
I have used this books with dozens of clients. People feel empowered and liberated by its message: being your Whole Self (not just 'happy', not just 'positive') is the secret to thriving and personal resilience.
As very useful follow up to this book, Emotions are Messages - Achieving Self Mastery by Learning to Work Safely with Your Emotions by Armand Kruger, guides us step by step through the actual structure of our emotions, the messages they contain, and how to use them beneficially