It’s a Strange, Strange World

The Benefits of Being a Jerk

We all know a jerk who refuses to go away or die. It might be a relative, or someone from high school, or the cranky old fellow down the street shouting at kids to get off his lawn. It might be someone in the news, a politician or movie star who seems to do nothing but complain about life or spread vicious rumors.

Well, get used to them being around for a long time.

Recent studies show that people with bad attitudes tend to live longer.

Let’s take a look at why:

Foul Language: Swearing is apparently good for the body. It relieves stress and helps the body deal with pain by increasing the activity of the right side of the brain and releasing a flood of hormones. These combine to reduce the effects of the pain by distracting us from it. And in times of stress or anger, it causes a release of mood-enhancing chemicals.

Gossiping: You hate when people do it in reality TV. You really hate when people do it at the office. And you absolutely despise it when it’s about you. But guess what? Gossiping is apparently good for the soul, and it doesn’t matter if it’s malicious gossip or sharing good news. Scientists studying this phenomenon theorize that it’s a form of bonding, just like sharing a joke or getting together to reminisce about old times, and in the same manner it releases stress-reducing hormones. But get this. Not just any old bonding will do. Some eggheads decided to have college students study together, to see if that worked just as well. But despite the conversations about the material, the students' hormone levels didn’t change. Which means in order to feel better about yourself, you have to be putting someone else down, and feeling better about yourself actually makes you healthier! So the next time you tell your kids not to gossip, remember, you’re cutting their lives short.

Complaining: You know how your grandparents are always going on and on about their aches and pains, how that guy you hate at work can’t stop grousing about the political candidates, and how everyone in social media seems to have a gripe? Well, they’re on to something—the secret to a long life! Complaining boosts the immune system and relieves stress. What’s even better (or worse, depending on your point of view) is that complaining in groups is even healthier, because you get the added bonus of group bonding. The real kicker is those of us who’ve always thought it’s better to keep our troubles locked away, to put on a brave face when sick or angry, are actually doing ourselves harm. Holding back those complaints when you really want to let them out raises stress levels and lowers the immune system’s performance. So the next time you want to lash out about the President or gripe about your flu, don’t hold back. And if people tell you you’re a jerk, smile and agree and say “Yeah, but I’m getting healthy by doing it!”

Anger is the best medicine: That’s right. Angry people live longer. In situations where a person can either respond with anger or fear (contemplating a serious problem, experiencing a traffic accident, getting bullied, being given a bad assignment at work), those who responded in anger had lower stress levels afterward than those who either refused to show their anger or who experience fear instead. So think twice when you see someone shouting out their road rage or screaming and yelling at everyone after a bad day at work. They’re doing the healthy thing by being a real jerk.

Robbing the cradle: Studies show that people who marry spouses much younger than themselves live longer, happier lives. Is it because it annoys everyone around them? No. Apparently, there’s truth to the old saying “She (or he) keeps me young.” The old guy with the trophy wife will most likely have higher levels of good hormones flowing around than his companions who are still with their same-aged spouses. Of course, no one’s done any studies on the younger spouse—is their life force getting siphoned off? At least some new studies show that marrying a second time also has beneficial effects.

Surviving heart attacks: Everyone knows that Type A personality is just another term for "jerk." But they do have an advantage—type As tend to recover from heart attacks faster and better than other personality types. They get just as many, but their desire to get back on their feet and make the rest of the world miserable with their complaining, anger, gossip, and foul language helps them regain their health in record time.

So, with all that in mind, maybe it’s time to take a lesson or two from all those jerks we can’t stand.

Because they’ll still be here when we’re gone.

Until next time ...

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