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Being grumpy could be good for you

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Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the movie Grumpy Old Men.

London - For anyone with a grumpy personality, it’s enough to make you feel even more glum: earlier this month British scientists reported that those least happy in middle age are up to three times more likely to die prematurely than cheery types.

The research by the Longitudinal Study of Ageing followed more than 10,000 English people throughout older age - the researchers estimated that chirpy folk are more likely to be alive ten years later than the least happy participants.

But for grumpy types, it may not all be bad. In fact, a host of research shows that it is life’s grumpy people who often fare better in the long term. Plus, forcing yourself to cheer up can cause debilitating stress.

For a start, 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.

The report concluded: ‘Although optimism has been shown to have positive effects when people are faced with a short-term crisis, the long-term effects of cheerfulness are more complex.’

Being glum also seems to be a far more natural response to difficult times, as it can enable us to cope better during tough situations.

This is according to a 2007 Australian study. 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.

‘Negative emotions flag up the fact there is a problem that the person needs to focus on. Positive moods signal the opposite - that you are in a position to freewheel.

‘Both emotions, in their appropriate place, help us to live in a healthy manner.’

Furthermore, feeling obliged to keep smiling does not make us any happier - in fact, there are deadly dangers of feeling forced to cheer up, says psychologist Professor Dieter Zapf.

His studies of more than 4,000 workers have found that public-facing workers, such as shop assistants, suffer increased risks of depression, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, through the stress of having to constantly grin while on duty.

In 2004, Professor Zapf, of the University of Frankfurt, recommended in the European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology that such ‘professional smilers’ need to be given regular grump-breaks where they can relax.

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’.

So rather than groaning under the tyranny of a perma-grin, we might all be healthier (and ultimately less depressed) if we simply aimed for a healthy balance of positive and negative feelings. - Daily Mail


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