Review: The Power Of Bad


This is a difficult review to write because I just want to say YES read this book. There are so many thoughts in my head I am having difficulties getting them out of my head and into print. Part of the reason I love The Power of Bad was because it is fascinating and very easy to read. The authors backed up their words with scientific studies, but I never felt that the text was dull and stuffy.

Why This Book

The main reason that I picked this book up was Gretchen Rubin (a writer/podcaster/human nature explorer - yes I am an admitted fangirl), posted an interview with the author John Tierney about his latest book ‘The Power of Bad’. I was (and am) dealing with some stress and uncertainty that can send me down the road of anxiety and negativity, and I am guessing that pretty much everyone has experienced something similar on occasion and maybe they are feeling it right now too. I didn’t want to go down that path freely, I wanted to fight it and stay in my happy place.

For the whole of 2019, I worked hard to get myself to be happier and it was a year long happiness project for me, and quite frankly I like where I am now in February 2020 much more than where I was in January 2019. And I like that my road is largely looking to the future and it looks great. I want to foster that growth and keep it going, which means I need to focus on combating the bad things in life; because let's face it bad things happen. I have found the happier I am the more productive I am and I am better suited to help someone in need. Also, the happier I am the easier it is for me to ‘let it go’; which means I am less likely to get frustrated and take it out on an unsuspecting person.

The Structure

“Negativity is a tough disease to shake – and it’s highly contagious.” (page 47)

  • Starts with the science behind the negativity bias
  • Then how to use negativity in a positive way
  • Application in personal and professional settings
  • Provides us with information about our natural weapons against bad
  • Wraps up with the crisis crisis and the outlook of the future of good.
    • I agree with their assessment

What is 'The Power of Bad'

"This power of bad goes by several names in the academic literature: the negativity bias, negativity dominance, or simply the negativity effect. By any name, it means the universal tendency for negative events and emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones." (page 1)

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The authors do a really good job explaining the hows and whys our brains are wired so I don’t want to touch on it because I would be doing a copy and paste or writing a summation that would not quite do it justice. Tierney and Baumeister are not out to tell you that life is all roses and sunshine and that they know how to fix it all. Bad things do happen so it is good to recognize this and have a set of tools to make the most of the bad or negative so that it can fuel the good. This book identifies the ‘good’ qualities of bad or negative experiences.

For example, post-traumatic growth is a ‘good’ quality of bad or negative experiences, and until I read this book I really hadn’t thought that much about what good you can find in bad experiences, but I guess it really is just making lemonade out of lemons. This in no way diminishes the fact that post-traumatic stress syndrome or disorder is a real thing and extremely difficult for the person that needs to work through it. It did occur to me that as horrific as that situation is for that person, realistically and logically when I divorce my emotions of the facts most people don’t experience post-traumatic stress despite what news outlets and social media may have you believe.

"After being exposed to a terrifying event, at least 80% of people do not experience post-traumatic stress syndrome." (page 10)

That fact gives me hope, hope that with this knowledge the social scientists will be better able to identify ways to support those that do experience post-traumatic stress. It gives me hope that when I encounter bad or traumatic events that I will have the tools necessary to move forward in growth because of the things that have already been learned about humanity’s resilience.

Encountering the ‘bad’ in the work place

Even though my work place is limited to me, myself, and I right now; I still found the chapters that seemed to focus on working in an office setting helpful. They discuss constructive criticism and debunk the idea that you should tell someone something good, then bad, and finish with good and why that doesn’t work. They also provide examples of things to do with the employee that is a ‘bad apple’ and even touch on how to respond to online criticism and bad reviews.

“A spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, but a spoonful of honey does nothing for a barrel of tar.” Russian saying from page 6

Using Our Natural Weapons

In some ways, I am a Pollyanna and want everyone to be happy because I find happiness to be a fulfilling and a better feeling than unhappiness or anxiety. So I was gratified to read that being a Pollyanna is kind of a good thing and one of our natural ways to fight negativity. If you are not familiar with Pollyanna, the short story is she is a fictional character that would play the ‘Glad Game’ and come up with some reason to be glad when faced with disappointment or something bad.

As the authors discuss social media they had a very even-handed approach, it is not evil incarnate but it isn’t utopia. I found their advice to be quite rational and once I read it I realized that it is so simplistic; I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it on my own. My own summary is this:

Social media’s failings are exaggerated, don’t avoid it but use it wisely. Be Pollyanna-ish in your posts, who you follow, and which sites you visit. If you are feeling insecure spend less time on staged and perfected shots of celebs or friends and focus on snap shots of friends and family.

What is the Crisis Crisis?

Tierney and Baumeister argue that the worst social consequence of the negativity effect is the crisismongers supporting and spread fears along with the prophets of doom, which in turn distorts the public’s view of the world and the future.

words on a film negative

This is not a new invention there are have always been spreaders of bad news and fears for someone to ‘gain’ something. These ‘merchants of bad’ are all over the place they are not defined by a political belief, gender, geographic location, religious (or lack of) belief. What is new is our ability to study and therefore react to these doomsayers and even to counteract them, even if we only counteract them in our own lives.

In the past, I used to be glued to the news during whatever crisis du jour or tragedy and I would feel myself get angry and anxious. This was obviously not good for me, but I found it difficult to break the cycle. However, after starting this book and reading about ‘the rule of 4’ and the ‘low-bad diet’, I broke the cycle for at least one tragedy. I followed their simple advice that has been out in the world for what seems like an eternity and it boils down to “if you don’t like what is on, turn the channel.”

They didn’t tell me anything new, and it was the advice I have given to others, but for some reason seeing it in print gave me the external validation that I didn’t really need but certainly helped me. So regarding the recent aviation crash, I learned the basics and said a prayer for the families and left it at that. I didn’t follow the soap opera drama of the hows and the whys of the crash, nor did I explore if anyone was a 'good' or 'bad' person because I am not involved and I didn’t personally know those affected. Following the speculation would not bring anyone back, all it would do is wind me up and potentially stoke a fear that wouldn’t be rational. My small act helped me to avoid extended exposure to negativity.

My Take Away:

“By learning how the negativity bias affects you and everyone else, you see the world more realistically – and less fearfully. You can consciously override the impulses that cause crippling insecurities, panic attacks, and phobias… A phobia is a discrete illustration of the power of bad: an exaggerated reaction to the possibility of something going wrong, an irrational impulse that prevents you from enjoying life to its fullest. Phobias can be overcome, and so can more generalized problems once you understand the negativity effect.” page 3

If you think you might read the book let me know. If you don’t think the book is for you, what book would you recommend and why? Let me know on my Facebook page.

NOTE: I am not being paid for my mentions of people, articles, products, or books I used above nor do I receive referral compensation. The links I provide are for your convenience only.

DISCLAIMER: This advice is general in nature and not to be taken as personal professional advice. This blog does not provide legal advice if you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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