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Don’t feel bitter about failing that exam: it’ll ruin your health

If, in following up stuff on Positive Psychology, you’ve looked at books like Seligman’s Authentic Happiness, you’ll have got the idea that there’s research that suggests that focussing on things to feel good about will improve your overall well-being. That’s one of those psychological ideas which are obvious common-sense – except that the reverse would seem like obvious common-sense too: “You mean, just reflecting each night on things to be grateful about is going to improve your life? Sounds like a recipe for being a loser.”
Here’s Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website:

Well, here’s some research which suggests the reverse applies, too:
“Constant bitterness can make a person ill, according to Concordia University researchers who have examined the relationship between failure, bitterness and quality of life.”  

The press release about this is at

It refers to a chapter by Carsten Wrosch and Jesse Renaud in a book: Embitterment: Societal, psychological, and clinical perspectives (Springer 2011).
“Unlike regret, which is about self-blame and a case of “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” acrimony points the finger elsewhere – laying the blame for failure on external causes. “When harboured for a long time,” says Wrosch, “bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease.”  “

Yes, but what if the blame for failure really does lie in external causes, and what needs to be done is to “take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them” (we’re always quoting Shakespeare)? Wouldn’t bitterness be a positive motivation? Maybe it’s a matter of being bitter and powerless, so there’s no realistic chance of opposing and ending. Sort of like how run-of-the-mill lecturers might feel about senior management (and I’m not going to comment on the events of August).

If you read further down the press release, there’s a suggestion that bitterness should be recognised as a mental disorder:
“Michael Linden, head of the psychiatric clinic at Free University of Berlin in 2003 [argued] that bitterness is actually a medical disorder and should be categorized as post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED). He estimates that between one and two per cent of the population is embittered and by giving the condition a proper name, people with PTED will receive the therapeutic attention they deserve.” 
…that looks like something worth discussing under the heading of Ways of Being Mad.

Anyway, kids, don’t be bitter: bitterness is bad.
I guess any good Buddhist could have told you that. Or as Lao Tsu wrote so long ago (Tao Te Ching, 79):

After a bitter quarrel, some resentment must remain.
What can one do about it?
Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain
But does not exact his due.

A man of Virtue performs his part,
But a man without Virtue requires others to fulfil their obligations.
The Tao of heaven is impartial.
It stays with good men all the time.


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