How to Make Envy and Anger Work for You

Generosity and kindness are tools, but there are lots of other tools.
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Generosity and kindness are tools, but there are lots of other tools.
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Todd Kashdan wants to talk about firefighters. Kashdan, a psychologist specializing in the study of personality, likes firefighters because, when they're not saving homes, they're excellent test subjects. Kashdan hopes the firefighters who live near him aren't happy—not too happy, anyway.

According to a large study, firefighters who report being happy in their firehouses make it to fires faster than firefighters who do not. They're also considerably more likely to get into accidents on the way and to cause significant property damage. The pleasure they take from the job makes them both more and less effective.

"Talk to a fire chief and he'll say, 'We don't hire stiffs,'" says Kashdan. "That makes sense, but there are costs for a culture that doesn't show emotions."

It's not that happiness is bad, it's just that it is only one tool in men's emotional tool kits. When overused or relied upon, it makes men less effective than they might otherwise be. With his new book The Upside of Your Dark Side—co-authored with happiness scholar Robert Biswas-Diener—Kashdan argues that men need to be more aware of the qualities they've been taught to suppress and more willing to use them in the workplace and at home. Here are his suggestions for making the best of your worst aspects.

Envy

"It's different than jealousy. Jealousy is you getting upset because you're losing something or afraid of losing something. When you experience envy, it makes you think, 'What is this other person doing that I'm not doing?' If you think about envy from an evolutionary perspective, it addresses a number of issues. We need to have tribes, and we need to have status to get access to resources and take care of our offspring. Envy forces us to have a strategy."

Anger

"This is the most interesting to me. As a dad, I'll say that kids can be tyrants, the best negotiators on the on the planet. Anger is the recognition that something is blocking you from achieving a goal. The best example is women getting paid less than men for equal work. One of the reasons men make more money is that they express anger. They say, 'Why am I making 11 percent less than my cubicle-mate? Am I doing 11 percent less work?' By expressing anger randomly, they make managers address their needs. Managers don't just drop money on people's desks."

Narcissism

"Liking yourself has a really unhealthy side and a really healthy side. The good stuff is the charisma, grandiosity, and sense of purpose. If a businessman wants an angel investor but doesn't have a grandiose vision, it's not gonna happen. A cell phone with bigger buttons? Snooze."

A narcissist can grab the podium and rally a group to work for what he cares about. Long term, it can turn around on him and become a problem, but it gets people going."

Sexual Aggression

"Your horniness is a reminder that whoever you're attracted to is a person you might want to be with—in whatever capacity—for the long haul. It's less about wanting sex than understanding that attractive people have more opportunities, and that association matters."

Sadness

"We're not talking about depression. We're talking about being a little out of your skin. What sadness does is communicate to other people that the difficulties of life are too much to handle at the moment. And when other people see it, they want to do something. It's a sort of superpower, an incredibly evolutionary adaptive experience."

Impatience

"What is the cost of not allowing yourself to be bored, to have the chance to synthesize all your experience of the day? It's when you're bored that ideas crop up, so when you refuse to be bored, you're destroying the incubation phase for ideas."

Photos by Jamie Grill / Getty Images