We tend to think of calm, peaceful Zen master types as the healthiest and happiest people in the species. After all, that twice-divorced, douchebag stock broker getting red in the face as he screams insults into the phone will surely be dead of a heart attack before he's 50, right?
That may be wishful thinking. It turns out there's a reason humans still cling to the behaviors that get us tagged as assholes. They might just make us healthier.
Most linguists agree that the reason we have such a thing as cursing in human language is because it's fucking awesome. But why do we do it when we're in pain?
Like maybe you were making yourself a cup of coffee in the break room or kitchen and turned around to find that someone left a cabinet door open and that door is now smacking you right in the goddamn face. Hurt like hell, didn't it? But it seemed to hurt a little less when you screamed "OH FUCK A SHITTING WHORE."
That's because cursing can increase pain tolerance. It's science. Dr. Richard Stephens of Keele University's School of Psychology got 64 undergraduate students to stick their hands in ice water. In one round they were to choose a curse word of their choosing (though we have to wonder how they decided what was a curse word since for some, "dickfeathers" qualifies). The next round they put their hand in while repeating a commonplace word.
Ahhhh Kelly Clarkson!!
Cursing increased pain tolerance amongst participants, who lasted longer than when they said a common word. While psychologists haven't established why, they believe "downplaying feebleness in favor of a more pain-tolerant machismo" unlocks something in the brain, perhaps the same thing that long ago helped us survive fights with other cavemen by getting good and pissed off the first time they hit us with a rock. They also noted cursing starts from the more emotional right brain than the uppity school boy left brain, where most language occurs and the parties are all boring and shit.
So the next time you bang your shin on an open desk drawer at work and involuntarily scream "FUCK!" at the top of your lungs, explain to your boss that you were just dealing with your pain in the most readily available way possible and that none of this would be happening if they didn't demand that you stop popping vicodin at work. Then show them this article to back up your point.
We all know being fat can take years off your life, but did you know talking about how fat Becky in accounting has gotten since breaking up with Steve from sales can boost your health! OMFG, seriously you guys!
A University of Michigan study found that gossip has positive health benefits for women. In the study, college women were put together in two groups. One group was assigned to proofread a botany paper. The other group was encouraged to ask personal questions of each other meant to help them bond.
What researchers found was that the women in the group that was encouraged to talk and gossip had elevated levels of the hormone progesterone, which is known as a "feel good" hormone in women that reduces stress. According to Stephanie Brown, lead psychologist on the study (who, by the way, was totally making eyes at Dr. Bennington at last month's faculty mixer), progesterone from human interaction is one of the reasons women with active social lives live longer than women who are isolated.
Ha! That chick in the pink shirt is totally gonna die!
Gossip, while often cruel, helps us bond in our surroundings. As we have pointed out before, gossip became a part of our culture because it served (and still serves) as an information stream that allows us to keep up with what's going on in our complex social groupings--something other species can't do. It's like an RSS feed that keeps you constantly updated on the deviant shit your social circle is up to.
Oh, and remember those women who had to read the botany paper? Their progesterone levels dropped during the test period, diminishing the feel good emotions the other women had. Plus, we heard they're total sluts.
So next time you feel stressed at the office, don't drop some xanax. Take a few minutes away from your desk and stop by the water cooler to tell Becky from accounting that her ex Steve from sales is seeing Consuela from the mail room, but that's OK because Consuela caught the clap from Jeff in IT after they got it on in the copy room at the Christmas party, so really Steve is getting what he deserves for the whole Margaret thing in November.
We all hate people who complain. People who spend all their time whining and being negative or critical tend to get on our last nerve and usually cause us to have to complain to other people about the complainer which makes us complain even more because now they've turned us into some kind of hypocrite and we don't like feeling that way and we've been feeling bloated all week because we've been drinking way too much Diet Pepsi lately and what is it with this weather anyway is it going to rain forever?
In other words, constant complainers suck because their disease is contagious. And that's disastrous, because how can anything be accomplished without the power of positive thinking?
While we may like to think that negativity evoked by their complaining will eventually kill them and hopefully not us, not all complaining elicits bad reactions. In the right context complaining can actually boost the complainer's health and immunity as well as the health of those who share the same complaints.
Our forefathers were super-complainers
Dr. John Brantner, a professor of health care psychology, found that cancer patients who complained about their aches and pains lived longer than those who took their pain passively and stoically. They were more more likely to demand more of the hospital staff to deal with the pain and take control of the situation. So suck it, Abigail Breslin's sister in that shitty Cameron Diaz movie!
In your FACE, punk!
But what about all of the non-cancer stricken people who can't go a few minutes without complaining about the state of the world and its decay? What do PETA members who throw blood on people who wear leather and Teabaggers stomping around with "Jesus Hates Health Care" signs get out of it?
Well, research has shown that they're boosting their own mental health and immune systems, for one. It's all about the power of complaining in groups. Humans are social animals and even bitching about things we can't control gives us a boost if we do it in groups.