There are times when a healthy dose of cynical distrust can be a lifesaver; it can even help us avoid getting scammed—whether from phony phone calls from a voice pretending to be our grandchild in need of money, or an online dating scammer who comes on like a romantic dream-come-true, only to end up a nightmare who texts you from “a business venture in Malaysia” says he/she got “mugged” and now needs you to wire money so you can finally meet in person and live happily ever after.
Granted, you should always trust your gut when it comes to shady people and interactions.
But if you sense you are becoming skeptical, cynical, and even hostile most of the time, then it’s time to do something about it. Why? Because for one thing, no one will want to be around you, but even more important:
Being in a constant state of suspicion, hostility, mistrust, or cynicism can actually shorten your life.
In a large longitudinal study, 3,433 men aged 42-61, who resided in the town of Kuopio, Finland were measured on cynical mistrust, based on scores from the Cynical Distrust Scale (CDS), a self-report test that contains items like: “It is safer to trust nobody”. Certain measures were taken at the baseline, such as presence or absence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the subjects were followed for 20-28 years.
As it turned out, the men who had NO CARDIOVASCULAR disease at the start of the study, but had a high level of cynical distrust had 1.5 to 1.7 times higher risk for premature cardiovascular death, as compared to those who had a low level of cynicism.
It seems that people with hostile personalities have a stronger response to stress, which affects their heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation and other biological mechanisms.
This study was conducted with men, because previous research has shown that cynicism is higher in men than in women, but I think it is a safe bet to say, that we ALL should all
- a) Remind ourselves often that life is a balance of good and bad; not just bad; and
- b) Deal more effectively with stress, instead of becoming hostile or cynical.
Here are 3 things you can do make sure you’ve got the right attitude:
- Think of 10 things every single day that are good about your life. It could be something as simple as a delicious cup of chamomile tea you sip before bed, or a song that makes you want to sing and dance whenever you play it, or an great old movie you are watching with a friend.
- Write Gratitude Thank-You Cards. Do you perhaps have a favorite grade school or high school teacher who is still alive? A cousin or friend whom you haven’t seen in years? An unforgettable mentor who trained you at your first job? Find their addresses and write a few words of gratitude on the inside of a thank-you note to express WHY you appreciate them. It will make them feel terrific and will help you to remember how wonderful people can be. I recently got a letter from someone I used to know 40 years ago who sent me a note to thank me for playing a piano piece for him. He said he never forgot how special it was to have someone make him feel that important. I had completely forgotten that incident, but it made me feel great to hear that I had touched someone’s life with such a simple gesture.
- Visualize The Most Beautiful Scene You Can. Now put yourself In It. There are many ways to meditate for stress reduction, but one method I used to teach heart patients at Yale, was to close their eyes and visualize a beautiful relaxing scene—some place they had either been to, or created in their mind. I asked them to put themselves in that scene and note all of their sensations. How does this place smell, what colors to they see? What temperature is the ground beneath their feet or the air they are breathing? Find your most beautiful place and immerse yourself totally, by noting every detail. Breathe easily for several minutes as you continue to visualize yourself in this scene. Make it your “safe haven”, to which you can return to anytime when you are feeling stressed or feeling hostile.
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Smigelskas, K. et.al (2017). High levels of cynical distrust partly predict premature mortality in middle-aged to ageing men. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 40:612-619.
© Raeleen Mautner, LLC