Mental health issues are on the rise, and one when that occurs, it is natural to try to look for a cause. Has life become more stressful? Are we not getting enough vitamins in our diet? Is there something going on with media?
The truth is that there are likely many reasons that depression, anxiety, and chronic stress have grown in both prevalence and severity. Yet an often forgotten cause is culture – specifically, the culture of negativity and cynicism.
Our Cynical Reality
We in the US have become a far more cynical culture. Search Twitter for “Sweet Meteor of Death” and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of people that are joking about bringing on the end of the world. Why? Because we live at a time where people do not expect things to get better and have become cynical about the world around them.
It is not just what is in the news, either. Every day men and women on Long Island are cynical about their friends, family, coworkers – even their coffee. They expect that the worst will happen and that nothing can be done to stop it.
One of my mentors once shared with me his definition of cynicism. He sees it as the act of a disillusioned idealist. What this means is that one has high expectations of life that are not being met, and so their defense to this frequent failure is the belief that needs are unlikely to be met in the future.
What to Do About Cynicism
If someone struggles with cynicism, one of the keys to defeating it is to develop more appropriate expectations. In other words, it is not that the cynic should just “be more positive,” as many people recommend. Instead, it is that they should stop idealizing outcomes, and instead have a more realistic view of what is likely.
The end result is that actual events end up more in line with expectations, which in turn mean that the person is less likely to find themselves frequently disappointed or disillusioned with the outcome. By focusing on realistic life expectations and goals (rather than just forcing themselves to be more positive), the view of what the world “is” starts to change over time.
Eventually, a more realistic view of the world with some positivity sprinkled in will help reduce some of the cynicism and promote a much happier quality of life.