Over the years, people have often accused me of being a cynical asshole. Whether it’s a disgruntled view on a popular trend or just a grumpy disposition, I almost always gravitate toward a negative outlook before a positive one. Thankfully, I found my way out of this without resorting to Disney-esque positive thinking.
My cynicism was so obvious at one point in high school that when a drama teacher cast me as the Grinch in the Christmas play my classmates praised it as the perfect choice. The countless articles on positivity I’ve read have little effect on me. But at some point recently, things began to click in my head and I stopped being the cynic I once was. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Why We Become Cynical
A cynical asshole is a special breed of person. You likely know the type if you’re not one yourself. A true cynic distrusts everything new they see or hear, they’re intolerant to new ideas, and they’re pessimistic about everything. They’re not skeptics. That’s a positive trait. They’re the downers of the group whose self-righteousness tends to bring everyone else down, too.
Cynicism comes from a variety of places, but it most often happens when we’re emotionally vulnerable.
Another cause of cynicism is pretty simple: our brains are hard-wired to pay more attention to negative experiences. The more negativity we see in the world, the more likely we are to share that disposition with others. Over time, that tends to make us more cynical. In severe cases, you’ll find yourself hating on pretty much everything without giving it much thought.
Admit You’re Being An Ass and Fake It Till You Make It
As with most things like this, the first step is admitting you have a problem. To override this thought process, take some time to reflect and admit you’re being a cynical asshole. When you catch yourself taking the default stance of negativity, make note of it and think about it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll realize how much you sound like a whiny baby.
Once you acknowledge your problem, you can start faking a more positive attitude until it sticks.
Audit Your Friendships
Cynical assholes tend to surround themselves with other cynical assholes. It makes those long nights at the bar complaining about pop culture a lot more enjoyable. At some point, it’s worth considering what impact these social relationships have on you.
I’ve had many cynical friends over the years. Those friends are funny when you’re in your early 20s, but as time marches on that cynicism and negativity tends to wear on a friendship. If you have too many of these types in your social circle, it’s hard to kick the habit of being cynical all the time.
I didn’t notice how cynical I’d become until I noticed how negative one of my friends was. I realized that we spent the bulk of our time complaining about things, whining about trivial mishaps from the day, or resenting anything new. I couldn’t take it anymore and started changing the dynamics of our relationship. The friendship remained, but we hung out less and for shorter periods of time.
I went through my contacts and cut back on my time with other similar friends. I didn’t need (or want) to cut people out completely, but it’s basic logic that when you surround yourself with cynics you’ll likely be a cynic yourself.
Breed Your Curiosity
Cynicism tends to make you close-minded, and that means it’s often difficult to pay attention to the world. When everything sucks, curiosity falls to the wayside, and that makes being creative difficult.
To help foster my own curiosity, I’ve taken on Jason Fried’s advice to give ideas five minutes before I react to them. This has the dual effect of soaking out my default negativity and breeding my curiosity by forcing me to ask questions.
Asking questions and being curious is tantamount to critical and creative thinking. I’ve noticed that the less time I focus on my snarky, cynical responses, the more likely I’ll have an actually useful idea. I also tend to pay more attention to the world around me and stop to appreciate the creativity of others.
Cynicism Isn’t All Bad
The line between being a cynic and having a critical sense is a close one. The more we look at things critically with an emotional detachment, the more likely we’ll be cynical about it. That’s not always a bad thing, though.
Remember, always-on optimism isn’t healthy either. Like most things in life, it’s about balance. When you find yourself being cynical about everything, then it’s time to take a closer look at how you’re interacting with the world.