The Hidden Benefits of Anger, Cursing and Negativity
What you think of as your worst qualities can have some surprising upsides.
Imperfect Harmony
In nature, nothing is ever black-and-white, and every yin has its yang. Time and time again we discover that things we thought were unequivocally unhealthy—like germs or UV rays—can sometimes be quite good for us. (We're still waiting for some happy news about French fries.) And now researchers are beginning to find that the same is true of our habits and personality quirks. "In certain situations, what is typically a detrimental trait can turn out to be a good one," says Bryan Gibson, PhD, professor of social psychology at Central Michigan University. In other words, what you perceive as faults—even minor ones like blurting out curse words when things go wrong or doodling whenever your boss fires up an Excel spreadsheet—can, in the right context, be strengths. Here's why.

When optimism isn't the best solution

The old thinking: Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Debbie Downers aren't just annoying; they're also less likely to prosper.

The new wisdom: All that worst-case-scenario brooding can make pessimists more likely to foresee—and overcome—potential future problems. "Defensive pessimism—thinking specifically about what might go wrong—can turn anxiety into action," says Julie K. Norem, PhD, professor of psychology at Wellesley College and author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking.

The old thinking: Swearing is trashy. (Just picture The Real Housewives of Atlanta.)

The new wisdom: Using your favorite four-letter word at the right time can alleviate pain. A recent study published in NeuroReport found that participants who immersed their hands in icy water and were allowed to shout expletives experienced significantly less prickly, numbing pain than when they repeated neutral words. Researchers speculate that cursing activates the stress response, boosting the body's pain threshold to deal with crisis.

The old thinking: Scribbling circles on a notepad while your company's chief inspiration officer drones on about synergy means you have trouble focusing.

The new wisdom: Doodling can boost your mind's ability to notice and remember mundane information by nearly 30 percent, according to research from the University of Plymouth. The theory is that the act of drawing makes use of visuospacial processes in the brain that might otherwise be used for daydreaming, thereby preventing your mind from wandering.

The old thinking: Procrastinating keeps you from getting anything done. Speaking of which, have you watched Nora the piano-playing cat on YouTube lately?

The new wisdom: In short bursts, dillydallying increases your overall productivity. "After about an hour of intense work, it's hard for people to maintain high-level concentration," says Brent Coker, PhD, an online consumer behavior researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Coker's research shows that people who periodically check Facebook or their personal e-mail throughout the day are, on average, about 10 percent more productive.

The old thinking: Feeding the rumor mill is a sign of insecurity.

The new wisdom: Gossiping can solidify friendships and strengthen your moral compass—so long as you're judicious about what you say and whom you say it to (dishing about Tiger Woods's latest mistress with your best friend: yes; spreading false rumors about your boss to half the office: no). Sharing juicy information with friends strengthens social bonds, and experts say gossip also informs us about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

The old thinking: Getting angry is unhealthy because it raises blood pressure (hence expressions like "that makes my blood boil").

The new wisdom: As long as your anger problems aren't chronic, getting mad when you face an unfair situation can actually buffer stress. According to Jennifer Lerner, PhD, director of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, outrage stems from feeling wronged. Reacting with controlled anger rather than runaway anxiety releases less of the body's stress hormone cortisol—too much of which has been linked to bone loss, depression, and obesity.

Is celebrity gossip bad for your health?