Sept. 1, 1997,
I'm not a fan of cynics. I lump their kind with doom-and-gloomers. They're just no fun to be around. In fact, based on mounting evidence, spending time with them can actually be harmful to one's health. I choose to be with people who are enthusiastic and positive about life and who can't wait to get up in the morning. Don't waste your time with negative people because they'll inevitably drag you down to their level. An upbeat attitude, contagious enthusiasm and a willingness to take on each day as it comes are traits I think most people admire. Such people are the doers. They inspire everyone around them and make a positive contribution every day, not only to themselves but to their organizations and to society.
So it was with interest that I read an article about a session that took place at the recent convention of the American Psychological Association in Chicago. According to the article in the Chicago Tribune, three university professors and two management consultants got together to discuss the topic of cynicism and its psychological impact on Americans' health. But to make the subject more interesting, the group decided to use the comic strip "Dilbert" as part of the discussion. While I'm not a regular reader of the comic strip, I do enjoy it from time to time. Scott Adams, the creator of "Dilbert," portrays the main character as a demoralized computer geek mired in the complexities and isolation of the corporate world. While the "Dilbert" workplace absurdities and his supervisors' foibles can be hilarious, the issues involved have a not-so-funny downside.
The serious side of all this is the fact that a cynical attitude can have a very bad effect on one's health. Research increasingly links cynicism with all kinds of health problems such as cardiovascular disease and immune system dysfunction. Large companies can actually be a health hazard, especially for those without an optimistic outlook on life. Steven Rogelberg, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, made some interesting observations during the panel discussion in Chicago. "Maybe corporate cynicism has something to do with data showing that CEOs earn 85 times more money on average than the average employee," he says. "Another problem is the emergence of the team approach. It busts up the way things are done and creates lots of uncertainty."
Meanwhile, earlier this summer the results of a study of some 7,300 British civil servants, published in the respected medical journal Lancet, show that people who had little or no control over their jobs had a 50% higher risk of a heart attack than their bosses.
According to the Tribune article, Bruno Cortis, M.D., a cardiologist in River Forest, Ill., claims cynicism also is part of the newly identified Type-H personality-found in hostile, aggressive individuals-which appears to lead to cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks. These people apparently are even more susceptible to such deadly maladies than the classic type-A, high-strung person. "Cynicism disconnects you from other people," Cortis adds.
There's obviously more to the subject of cynicism, but at the very least it isn't hard to figure out that a bad attitude can have some very serious health consequences. Being optimistic is the only way to approach life in this complicated world. In my opinion, cynics are dream-busters. They only make life more difficult by always emphasizing the negative. They can never see the silver lining. That's unfortunate, and it's a prescription for failure.
Life is full of opportunity if one has the right attitude. And the right attitude is a healthy attitude.
The glass is half full,
Charles S. Lauer