Research suggests that cynics are three times more likely to develop dementia

Committed sceptic Rhodri Marsden decides to get happy

As I was having lunch earlier, a nearby television screen was showing the end of Hans Christian Andersen, the 1952 film starring Danny Kaye. As he trilled the chorus of "Thumbelina" to a crowd of delighted children in period costume, I pushed a slab of Red Leicester into my face and regarded the unfolding action with a grimace, as if I were watching scenes broadcast from a rat-infested sewer.

"This," I thought to myself, "does not reflect the harsh realities of life." I imagined furious off-set arguments between the cast and crew over sound and lighting in order to align the film more closely with my cynical worldview. And then I stopped myself. I'd just read that mental state has a close link to physical health, and, by failing to appreciate the infectious enthusiasm of Danny Kaye, I realised that I might actually be doing myself some damage. I checked my cheerfulness, and found it wanting. "Thumbelina dance, Thumbelina sing," continued the tune. I forced an unconvincing half-smile, reminiscent of Gordon Brown on the campaign trail.

There's been a recent surge in the popularity of mindfulness (formerly "meditation") to help us to take a more nuanced, self-aware view of our negative thoughts and consequently promote mental and physical well-being. But research at the University of Eastern Finland has just uncovered a more startling finding: that cynical, grumpy people are three times more likely to develop dementia than those who have a sunnier outlook.

The figures, taken from a sample of 1,500 people over an eight-year period and adjusted for other factors such as high blood pressure, make for alarming reading for those of us who regularly question the motives of friends and have precious little faith in strangers. I'd always thought grumpiness and pessimism to be useful strategies that allowed me to experience pleasure when things turned out to be merely bad rather than dreadful, while simultaneously alienating the kind of indiscriminately upbeat Pollyannas whom I find pretty exhausting in any case. But no. My health might be suffering. Maybe it's time for a rethink.

Thing is, it's hard to rewire your brain in this fashion, and it's particularly hard these days. We seem to have become conditioned as a species to believe that things are bad and getting worse, even when it's manifestly obvious that this is not the case – the country's plummeting crime figures being an obvious example. We've just come out of a period of political campaigning that's been characterised by cynicism, covered cynically by the media and has inspired cynicism in the electorate, a never-ending feedback loop of dissatisfaction that leads to a corrosive belief that everything is screwed and an impotent feeling that nothing can be done.

Neither of these things is true, but a corrosive misery inevitably takes hold, and we bombard each other with bad news in some kind of warped competition to see who can generate the most misery by teatime. It's toxic – and no wonder it leads us to answer the kind of questions posed by the Finnish study ("Is it safer to trust nobody?" "Would most people lie to get ahead?") in the affirmative.

A representative from the Alzheimer's Society was quoted yesterday as saying that the sample size of this study was too small to draw any real conclusions as regards dementia, but regardless of any empirical data, we should all be aware of the abrasive effects of anxiety, stress and melancholia. Yes, cynicism can be useful, occasional grumpiness is inevitable, but doubting the benevolent intentions of the film Hans Christian Andersen? This does us no favours whatsoever.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions