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Grumpy is Good for You

According to an Australian researcher who studies human emotions, grumpy people think more clearly and are better able to cope with demanding situations than cheerful people.

“In contrast to those annoying happy types,” reported BBC.com, “miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible...While cheerfulness fosters creativity, gloominess breeds attentiveness and careful thinking.”

At the risk of ruining her reputation, Crabby Old Lady wholeheartedly endorses Professor Joe Forgas's work. His conclusions corroborate Crabby's long-held intuitive belief that those with more negative views of the world are generally smarter than Pollyannas and Crabby is pleased that someone with better credentials than she agrees.

(Crabby Old Lady does, however, take issue with the interchangeable use of the words grumpy, melancholy, depression, sadness, miserable, etc. “Grumpy,” like “crabby,” seems more superficial and transient to Crabby than “depression” and “melancholy” which are serious conditions, and “sadness,” a recurring emotional state everyone experiences depending on events and which passes with time.)

“Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has repeatedly demonstrated in experiments that negative moods lead to better decisions in complex situations,” writes Jonah Lehrer in The New York Times.

“The reason, Forgas suggests, is rooted in the intertwined nature of mood and cognition: sadness promotes 'information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations.'

“This helps explain why test subjects who are melancholy — Forgas induces the mood with a short film about death and cancer — are better at judging the accuracy of rumors and recalling past events; they’re also much less likely to stereotype strangers.”

One of the reasons Forgas's (and others') findings about the relationship between negative feelings and better analytical function is interesting is that American culture leaves little room for anything but cheerfulness. We are exhorted to always smile, be upbeat, put on a happy face which has been a lifelong personal burden to Crabby.

She was born with a face that when it is doing nothing but hanging out – reading a book, for example, or just thinking – looks angry or sad or, perhaps, something in between. Many people, starting with her parents when she was a kid, ask, “What's wrong, Crabby?” And nothing was or is – for the question continues to come up even in her old age.

Whatever our facial expression, it seems to Crabby that most of the time we live in emotional neutral, neither happy nor sad, but the pressure to always appear happy is enormous – as the billion-dollar prescription anti-depressant market attests.

Enough evidence has been gathered by Professor Forgas and other researchers to be able to state that sadness (depression, melancholy, whatever word you choose) makes us smarter:

“[Evolutionary psychologist, Paul] Andrews found a significant correlation between depressed affect and individual performance on the intelligence test, at least once the subjects were distracted from their pain: lower moods were associated with higher scores. 'The results were clear,' Andrews says. 'Depressed affect made people think better.'”

While Crabby Old Lady is not, in the clinical definition, depressed, she is definitely pissed off a good deal of the time (and believes that if you aren't, you're not paying attention). She is “happy” to find out that her state of mind is probably good for her and helps keep her sharp.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judy Watten: Adventures with Obituaries


Ronni, this is one of my favorite posts from you, very funny but with a "serious" message.
I am one of those people who puts on a happy face for almost everything, a happy face punctuated with a joke at the end. Right now, I'm getting ready to kick my youngest child's ass over some things that need to change and a happy face and a joke just won't do.
When I talk to her I'm going to envision wearing a t-shirt that says, WWRD (What Would Ronni Do?)
Oops, I ended my diatribe with a joke. Focus, Marcia, focus.

So happy to be vindicated in my oft slightly pessimistic attitude towards life. I've been admonished to "smile more"--"I like it when you're upbeat." My response, "haven't you heard of the happy fool?!" However, with a grin on one's face, I think we do look younger!

Thanks for giving all us (intelligent)pessimists a pat on the back!

Right on about the expectations of American culture. A lot that is out of whack today is the belief that happiness is a right, and if you aren't happy, someone or some circumstance is to blame. Parenting goals seem to focus on "We just want our children to be happy," not "We want our children to be responsible, kind, contributing members of society who respect others." At other levels, heaven forbid that anyone should suffer the unhappy consequences of their own life choices. Humbug!

People who always appear happy to me seem phony, on something, or out of touch with reality. I feel "appear" is the operative word. In the future, when asked what's wrong, I'll probably smile and just feel smarter! Thanks Ronni!

Can't tell you how many times I've been advised to "cheer up and smile." Loved this column saying it's okay to not be "happy all the time." Even the ads-TV, magazine, catalogs-with extreme "looks like laughter" facial expressions get to me, too much cheerfulness-but it's everywhere. Thanks, Ronni, for this post. It made my day.

First, I don't think that "putting on a happy face" is the opposite of grumpy, nor do I believe that those who think "more clearly and are better able to cope with demanding situations than cheerful people" is necessarily equivalent to "smarter."

With that said, in most situations I find grumpy folks to be pretty much a pain in the patoot to be around--smarter or not.

Great post today, Ronni! Nice to know that "pissed off" is not a bad thing. Nice to be there (with you & others!):)Dee

When Jean Shinola Boden wrote her book Crones Don't Whine it got me going. I fumed, I hissed, I was definitely cranky, muttering "I didn't live this long to have somebody give me a directive like that. I'll whine if I wanna!"

Or be scalding, melancholy, grumpy or otherwise in the camp of those temporarily rendered into something other than relentlessly cheerful. I love your Grumpy persona and observations.

Clever post and well said. I might take note however that in your header photos you have a lovely smile. That a person should be expected to smile whilst reading however, is ridiculous.

Has anyone else read ....
She also wrote the marveous "Nickel and Dimed." I may not agree with everything she says 100% but to my mind, she's right on the mark. For someone who tries to be truthful to myself about whatever difficulty I might face, I get so tired of people telling me to stop being so pessimistic. It's one thing to be dour all the time and quite another to being realistic. Our culture seems to have meshed them together into one entity - pessimistic. I do smile a lot as a reflex, but as Ronni says, "at rest" I too get a lot of "cheer up!" That can put me in a bad mood when I hadn't been before.

I too have that face perceived to be perpetually grumpy. I've spent my adult life responding to "What's wrong?" with "Just my bone structure!" I don't think anyone has ever believed me. Love the post.

What a smile and a giggle you brought to my day with this sentence.

"While Crabby Old Lady is not, in the clinical definition, depressed, she is definitely pissed off a good deal of the time (and believes that if you aren't, you're not paying attention). "

Good on you, Crabby. from one Grumpy to another"

Yes Arby, I have read both books by
Barbara Ehrenreich and agree with you.

Thank you Crabby. In the last years of his life my Dad, a intelligent biologist with a PHD, was incessantly offered treatment and mood adjusting drugs by doctors who saw him as depressed. He refused, telling his doctor he'd been depressed all his life and it had served him well.

In his last years, he was organized, still learning, had friends, was tidy, ate well, and weighed the same as he did in high school. He walked every day and kept marching on well into his 80's. He was a consumate realist. He survived the Depression, the slow, sad, death of his wife, and two bouts of colon cancer. Still, he was perfectly capable of telling awful jokes and laughing his fanny off and was interested and concerned about what was going on in the world. If that's depression bring it on.

Just think, fellow doubters, worriers, and doomers...

If we "pessimists" were running the show would we have had...

1) the financial crisis, in which millions bought homes they hadn't a prayer of affording from bankers who knew their loans were worthless and brokers who repackaged such loans as "securities"?

2) the oil spill catastrophe, so clearly the result of an overdose of "positive thinking" with no realistic Plan B in case the best case scenario crashed and burned (as it were)?

Just sayin'...

When "realism" is constantly relabeled "pessimism," look what that oh-so-popular "upbeat attitude" will produce instead!

Well, as someone who has suffered clinical depression, I can't say I recommend it. However, I so get what you say about relentless cheer and the notion that we are entitled and indeed obligated to be happy all the time!

When my daughter (now doing very well) was first diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer I was told by one friend to "think positive," and by another to tell my son, who has a very funny sense of black humor, and a fairly pessimistic outlook, not to "bring that darkness into your house," "that darkness" being in fact, most bracing.

I read some time ago, in a book about psychological abuse, that to badger someone to SMILE is a subtle form of abuse,an intrusion. Having myself been so badgered, by total strangers, I agree! Thanks for the post. Anne

At times the perpetually cheerful people try to make me smile when I am angry and it makes me nuts. I want to be mad, damn it. I find the 'always happy' bunch to be hypocritical and nothing makes me madder than hypocrisy.

Thanks for the affirming post that I'll be quoting! Also, Linda and Paula - Amen!!

Does pessimistic count? I figure: If I'm pessimistic, I'm rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. Assume the worst, I say.

Crabby may be grumpy but she's got a great sense of humor!

Amen to this, Ronni and amen to Paula, there are more of us needed in the world, the pollyannas can live in their misty never-never land but I will continue to protest the dying of the light and anything else. And if I'm reading a book people, or just staring off into space, I don't need to 'lighten up, will ya?'.

"With that said, in most situations I find grumpy folks to be pretty much a pain in the patoot to be around--smarter or not."

And that's why I learned - years ago (how many you ask...don't!), to put a smile on my face, to hide the frown inside my head.

And besides - it takes less muscles to smile than to frown... which is why I don't have any wrinkles at 60umm years.
All the folds are inside my head... they tell me the more folds you have in your brain... the smarter you become.

But seriously... paranoia, I've heard... is next to genius - on a bell curve.

Now I think Celia's got a point ...

'the financial crisis, in which millions bought homes they hadn't a prayer of affording from bankers who knew their loans were worthless and brokers who repackaged such loans as securities?'

And that's why I and some old-farts have to decided to take back the night... (in our slippers off course) and take back the day ... with our typewriters - sorry... our keyboards.

You know... in my day - 'keyboards' was a piano... but times do change.

Ronni, I love this blog! Several of us are on the same page here. I agree that there's often a fine line between being pessimistic and realistic. There's really not a whole lot to be cheerful about these days. That doesn't mean we need to go around spreading doom and gloom all the time. (We don't have to since the daily news does a great job for us.) However, I can't quite grasp the thinking of folks who go through life with a constant grin on their faces no matter what. Yeah, maybe some TGB readers do take life too seriously, but somebody has to. Grumpy can be good, especially when leavened by a dash of humor!

I've read Ehrenreich's books and columns and read her blog (which she has not updated lately).
I'm reasonably cheerful but not to excess, I hope.
New agey types get on my nerves, though.

Very enjoyable post. In my view, the opposite of smiling is frowning and as a rule, I do neither. Why? Because I'm thinking. I've always been this way and have even worried about it at times. No more.

Brava! Hooray!

And try standing in front of today's college students, who expect one not only to be happy all the time, but nurturing, all-forgiving, and endlessly patient -- no matter how many times one is asked to repeat the most basic directions they missed because they were busy texting under the desk. Oh yes, and add presumably blind and nearly unconscious to that list.

I have always seen myself as "stubborn" and "head-headed" ... but GRUMPY works!
A very special "Thank You!" for this blog. This definitely works for me.

Having met you Ronni, I want to say that you don't come across as either a grumpy person or a happy person but as a lively, fully alive person. And people with that fully alive quality (I like to think I'm one also) have moments -or even whole days- of grumpiness, and also moments or days of ordinary, nothinginparticularness, sadness, wistfulness, restlessness, fury, peaceful contentedness, angst, weariness and soaring joy. And a whole bunch of other things too.
Reading through all these comments, I doubt very much that grumpiness really is the default position for anyone here. It is more than now we are old we are allowing ourselves to be fully who we are and claiming our right to be grumpy and bloody-minded when we feel like it.
There's a lot to be grumpy about. But let's face it, there always was. There's a lot to be optimistic about, too. Sometimes events (like the oil spill) trigger grumpy feelings but sometimes the feelings come first and look for something to hook on to, like that sort of lightning that strikes the masts of passing ships.
I have found that whenever I fully accept and own a grumpy mood, it moves through much faster than if I try to suppress it.
As for a 'happy face' plastered on top of grumpy feelings, well that is a mask that fools no-one and since we unerringly sense each other's feelings anyway it creates a dissonance that merely makes others feel uncomfortable.

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