Are you one of those who think that his cat loves him just because you feed him? Do you think all politicians are corrupt? Don't you trust NGOs or any organization in a general sense even as a joke? Do you think everyone who begs will spend it on drugs? You are convinced that your colleague is nice only because he will ask you for a favor in return. Do you think the scientific studies claiming the Mediterranean diet is healthy have been paid for by lobbyists to promote their sponsors' products?
If you identify with most of these statements, chances are you are a cynical person. But you have no reason to be proud of this as cynicism has been linked to numerous health problems. Although you will probably never find out because, to be true to your cynicism, you will suspect that this article too is part of a worldwide conspiracy to force you to think like others, to follow the channels of normalized thinking that you hate so much.
What is cynicism?
"You are a bitter man," said Candide.
“That's because I've lived,” Martin said.
In this dialogue taken from "Candide", Voltaire perfectly summed up what cynicism is.
Cynicism was a philosophical system which, at its origins, in the first century, was in competition with other philosophical currents, such as stoicism. And he was defeated. Of the principles that involved living according to nature by embracing minimalism, little remains. Modern cynicism was formed between the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, retaining its philosophical roots only the propensity to doubt people's motives.
At present, cynicism is not believing in the motives expressed, doubting the sincerity and goodness of others and, therefore, the social and ethical norms and values we share. This doubt not only generates distrust, but is often accompanied by contempt and pessimism towards others and humanity in general.
Cynicism: Psychology of Cynical People
The line between cynicism and objectivity can be very thin. It is said that after the age of 40, it is practically impossible not to have accumulated a bit of cynicism - some more, some less. In fact, cynicism exists across a broad spectrum, so being cynical in certain circumstances or issues doesn't necessarily imply that we are cynical people.
In fact, most cynical people are deluded idealists. They are generally people who had unrealistic standards and expectations and who, instead of adapting and committing to change their environment or just quietly retreating, brandish their cynicism like a weapon and a shield.
From this point of view, cynicism is a defensive attitude. If we always expect the worst, we will not be hurt or disappointed. It means making sure we protect every corner of our life, foreseeing all eventualities to defend our "I" with a sword in our teeth.
At the same time, this cynicism makes us feel superior. In fact, the cynical person tends to be proud of his cynicism and flaunts it as a banner of objectivity, rationality and intelligence, although in reality behind that shell is a person more sensitive and vulnerable than imagined.
The long list of damages caused by cynicism
Cynical people who usually take a contemptuous, irritating, and disheartening attitude are the first to suffer from their cynicism. Cynics may see that feature as a reflection of a cold and harsh realism, but taken to the extreme it can become an insane attitude, as evidenced by growing scientific evidence that paints a more pessimistic picture than the cynics themselves might imagine. .
To begin, cynical people have a higher risk of developing dementia, as demonstrated by a study recently published in the journal Neurology. After analyzing 1.146 people, these researchers found that cynics are three times more likely to suffer from dementia than those who are not.
Cynicism also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. It was confirmed by another study published in the journal Circulation and conducted on 97.253 women. Researchers explain that cynicism increases daily stress levels, affects coping skills to cope with adversity, and reduces social support.
Men are not saved either. Another study conducted at the University of Health Sciences of Lithuania with 2.682 men aged 42 to 61 showed that cynics are more likely to suffer an early death. After following them for 28 years, they saw that cynicism increased the risk of premature death between 1,5 and 1,7 times.
Why is cynicism so harmful?
Part of the explanation is offered by a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in which hostile cynicism was found to be related to inflammation. This attitude stimulates pro-inflammatory activity through cytokines.
The other part of the explanation lies in the pessimism and social isolation to which cynicism leads, states that are not conducive to health. In fact, a University of Utah study found that cynical people are more likely to feel provoked by the actions of others, which triggers an exaggerated physiological response that likely keeps stress levels high.
The effects of cynicism are not limited to our health, but also extend to our income. A study conducted at the University of Cologne found that cynical people receive lower incomes because they are wary and excessively controlling, so they don't take advantage of cooperation and waste a lot of energy controlling the work of others.
These studies confirm that the way we see the world has a powerful effect on our health, that hostile cynicism turns into a boomerang that will hit us again.
To be or not to be cynical: this is the dilemma
Sometimes, due to the setbacks that arise in the course of life, it is almost inevitable not to develop a cynical attitude. This isn't necessarily bad, as long as we don't get carried away.
Diogenes, probably the most famous cynic, moved with a lamp in his hand inviting Athenians to question their beliefs, values and priorities and showing them a more authentic and satisfying path.
His goal was to clear the fog and confusion to see reality more clearly. George Bernard Shaw defined cynicism as "the power to observe closely". A cynical person refuses to be pigeonholed and labeled and can become a keen and very objective observer when a dose of realism is needed.
The cynic, after all, is inclined to question the motives of people and society in general, he wants to destroy any form of conventionalism. And that's not bad. It is wrong to start with the presumption that all reasons are perverse and to get on the defensive, because this implies precluding the knowledge of reality.
The key to cynicism not hurting us is to use questions and doubt not as an end in themselves, but as a means to clear the haze and try to see things as they are - or at least as objectively as possible. As Oscar Wilde said: "cynicism consists in seeing things as they really are and not as you want them to be". And this means being open to the negative, but also to the positive.
We can take advantage of the experiences of life, not to develop a hostile cynicism but to realize what really matters and eliminate all that is unnecessary and hinders us. We must practice intelligent cynicism, which is not general negativity towards the world, but a stimulus to the pursuit of what is really worth, being able to separate the wheat from the weeds.