It’s not all bad news for grumpy people like me:
Optimism is not always as healthy as it might sound. Rather, being a Pollyanna can have a dark side, as shown by a long-term study published in 2002 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Psychologists followed the lives of 1,216 children who were first assessed in 1922. They found that those who were rated as more happily optimistic died earlier in adult life than those who were more doleful.
The researchers, from the University of California, warned that the cheery youths grew up more likely to drink, smoke and take more risks. This was most likely because their jolly optimism clouded their judgment and made the dangers appear insignificant.
. . . Through a series of tough intelligence tests, it was found that people who were in a bad mood outperformed the cheerful participants.
‘They made fewer mistakes and were better communicators,’ said researchers. ‘In contrast to happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible.’
John Maule, a professor of decision-making at Leeds University, explains that a broad body of research supports this idea.
‘People in negative moods tend to think more deeply and in a more analytical style, and rely less on intuition,’ he says, adding that being a grump can enable us to think more clearly in hard times.’
. . . Similar conclusions have been drawn by Simon Moss, a senior psychology lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He found that encouraging natural optimists to think positively is easy, but for the majority of us, being exhorted to make deliberate attempts at optimism only compromises our well-being. Nevertheless, we still all face increasing pressure to keep smiling.
Even when faced with a serious illness, such as cancer, we are exhorted to think and act positively, thanks to the popular belief that this will boost our chances of recovery. In fact, there is no scientific evidence to support this.
A study published in January in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed 4,600 people with cancer over 30 years and found their attitudes had no bearing on the outcome of their illnesses. The American Cancer Society has warned that ‘encouraging patients to be positive may only add to the burden of having cancer while providing little benefit’.