Years ago when I was distributing report cards to my homeroom students, I handed one filled with D's and F's to a boy. A friend seated nearby noticed the poor grades and that many teachers had selected the same word to assess the boy's performance in the comment section.
Unfamiliar with the word, the friend asked what apathetic meant. The recipient's response (and I kid you not): "I don't know and I don't care."
Talk about irony.
But today's column will not. Instead it will focus on something inherent in the anecdote: the boy's feelings toward school. Those feelings, as much as any lack of skill or innate intelligent, lead to the D's and F's.
Now medical research suggests that a similar attitude about your life can adversely affect your health.
While a finding like this is not surprising, the fact that little research has been done in this area is. That dearth of research is just one of the reasons why Nancy E. Mayo, a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, and her colleagues studied middle-aged women who were stroke survivors.
What they found is what you'd expect: that those who didn't care didn't get better. But the unexpected discovery was the association between a feeling of hopelessness and the thickening of the carotid artery, the main blood vessel to the brain, a thickening that increases the incidence of stroke.
In fact, the study found that the women with the highest levels of apathy and hopelessness had triple the thickening in comparison to the overall average of the group of stroke survivors.
Somewhat related to Mayo's study is one published by Psychological Science in 2007 that studied the effects of neuroticism the tendency towards emotional ups and downs and excessive worrying on health.
In 1998, Purdue researchers gave 1,663 middle-aged men a test to determine their degree of neuroticism. By 2000, the men who scored above the 50th percentile on the test and whose condition progressively worsened another 20 percent were 40 percent more likely to have died than the men whose scores remained constant whatever the original score.
A Canadian study from 2007 found that job stress adversely affects already compromised health. In it, researchers kept tabs on 972 heart-attack sufferers for nearly six years.
What they found was that those who had jobs with a heavy workload and little chance to be creative or make decisions three characteristics of jobs with high stress levels were twice as likely to have had a second attack after resuming work.
But there's a positive twist to all of this. Just in the way that a poor mental state increases the odds of poor health, positive emotions seem to increase the odds of