Do you believe that most people will tell a lie if they think they can gain by it? If you answered yes to this question, chances are you have a bit of a cynical streak.

The dictionary defines cynicism as a bad attitude, a belief in bad outcomes, resentment, sarcasm, or suspicion. While a small amount of cynicism can protect you from falling victim to false or misleading information, too much cynicism can take a toll on your health.

Studies show that cynicism, and its cousins-anger, aggression, and hostility-increase your risk for cardiovascular illness and death. Cynical hostility is also associated with an increase risk for overall and cancer-related mortality.

In one particular study, anger and hostility were associated with a 19 percent increase in coronary heart disease in healthy individuals, and 24 percent increase in those with pre-existing heart disease. This was particularly the case for men. The researchers concluded that these results support the notion that adverse psychological factors are significant in the development and progression of coronary heart disease, and they start to show an adverse affect after just a couple of years.

Scientists are not sure why this link exists, although they have several hypotheses. Cynicism may influence our physiology directly or it may work indirectly by encouraging us to partake in risky behaviors, such as smoking or drinking, as a way to release feelings of tension associated with hostility and anger. Hostility and cynicism may also interfere in the stress-buffering effects of our social support networks.

In an article on his website ("Beyond Criticism"), management consultant John Weaver, Psy.D. likens cynicism to junk food. He writes, "Cynical responses feel really good at the moment just like greasy fast food. And like junk food, they cause problems for us down the road."

Weaver says all cynics were optimists at some point and that cynicism is a reaction to loss, the realization that life is not just and we are often helpless to change it. In the short term, cynicism keeps us alert to potential dangers. However, in the long run, this negative approach to the world causes physical and emotional harm, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you believe you are powerless and then act as if it were true. Weaver says, "The more cynical we become, the more we surrender our own personal power."

Adopting a more optimistic, and less cynical, outlook on life will improve both your mental and physical health.


Tindle, Hilary A. MD, MPH, Chang, Yue-Fang PhD, Kuller, Lewis H. MD, DrPH, Manson, MD, JoAnne E. DrPH, Robinson, Jennifer G. MD, MPH, Rosal, Milagros C. PhD, Siegle, Greg J. and  PhD, Matthews, Karen A. PhD. "Optimism, Cynical Hostility, and Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Mortality in the Women's Health Initiative." Circulation 120 (2010) :656-662. Web.

Weaver, John Psy.D. "Alternative Ways to Do Business." Web.

Davidson, Karina W. PhD, and Mostofsky, Elizabeth MPH. "Anger Expression and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Evidence from the Nova Scotia Health Survey." American Heart Journal 159(2) (2010): 199-206. Medscape Medical News. Web. 16 March 2010.

Nnainggolan, Lisa. "Antagonistic People Have Thicker Carotid Walls, Increased CVD Risk." Medscape Medical News. Web. 16 August 2010.

"Large Meta-Analysis Links Anger, Hostility With CHD Risk, Particularly in Men." Medscape Medical News. Web. 11 March 2009.