How To Stop Being A Cynical Jerk

How To Stop Being A Cynical Jerk

Over the years, people have often accused me of being a cynical jerk. 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.

Picture: Ollyy, emmacraig1, hobvias sudoneighm

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 jerk 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 sceptics. 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. Psychology Today explains:

Cynicism is part of a defensive posture we take to protect ourselves. It’s typically triggered when we feel hurt by or angry at something, and instead of dealing with those emotions directly, we allow them to fester and skew our outlook. When we grow cynical toward one thing in our lives, we may slowly start to turn on everything. During a visit with her family over the holidays, a friend of mine found herself getting increasingly frustrated with her husband. What started as small irritations at him forgetting their camera and not being ready on time, soon grew into a hostile attitude toward almost everything he did. This critical and guarded point of view shaped her holiday and left her grouchy and irritable toward her family and friends. It wasn’t until she got home that she asked herself: “What was my problem? How did I let that feeling of cynicism take over?”

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 A Jerk 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 jerk. 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 realise how much you sound like a whiny baby.

Once you acknowledge your problem, you can start faking a more positive attitude until it sticks. For example, Redditor LionLeo’s shares his “fake it till you make it” success:

I used to be that guy. Nobody really called me on it but I noticed people starting to hang out with me less and less. As I got older I found my cynical-ness had mostly gone away. It just kind of came from more of a “go with the flow” attitude that I adopted overall and it’s really made me a happier person. I used to deal with depression and anxiety and that’s mostly gone away just because I adopted a positive attitude about things. Just try to be a little more enthusiastic about others (genuine or fake, just try it) and be interested in what they have to say.

Something I always keep in mind to keep me in check is a quote from Bill Nye, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” When I think about it that way, people become more interesting to me.

Personally, I took to faking it on social networks. A few years ago, then-Kotaku editor Brian Crecente mentioned on Twitter that one of his goals was to stop being negative on social networks. For whatever reason, this struck something in me, and I took on the same goal for myself. Like anyone, I’ll lapse in that policy occasionally, but for the most part I try to stick to the mantra of positivity and shying away from whiny complaints when I can.

For me, it’s less about the flowery idea of concentrating on the positive and more about not focusing on the negative. If I have something constructive to say, I’ll say it. If it’s pessimistic vitriol, I try to keep it to myself. I’m more comfortable with this less blindly optimistic approach than I would be with a lot of the activity examples I’ve seen suggested elsewhere.

Of course, you can rewire your brain for positivity in all kinds of other ways. We’ve pointed out ways to trick yourself into being more positive before . Exercises include recording positive thoughts, giving positive shout-outs to others, and doing something nice for someone.

Audit Your Friendships

Cynical jerks tend to surround themselves with other cynical jerks. 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 realised 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

How To Stop Being A Cynical Jerk

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. Fried explains how it clicked for him:

…I pushed back at him about the talk he gave. While he was making his points on stage, I was taking an inventory of the things I didn’t agree with. And when presented with an opportunity to speak with him, I quickly pushed back at some of his ideas. I must have seemed like such a jerk.

His response changed my life. It was a simple thing. He said “Man, give it five minutes.” I asked him what he meant by that? He said, it’s fine to disagree, it’s fine to push back, it’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give my ideas some time to set in before you’re sure you want to argue against them. “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react. He was totally right. I came into the discussion looking to prove something, not learn something.

This was a big moment for me…There’s also a difference between asking questions and pushing back. Pushing back means you already think you know. Asking questions means you want to know. Ask more 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

How To Stop Being A Cynical Jerk

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. As Psychology Today points out, it’s positive in small doses:

Though cynicism may not be healthy in the long run, it can serve as an emotional coat of armour that blunts life’s everyday indignities. Philip Mirvis, a cynicism researcher at Boston College, says cynics’ caustic, detached outlook on life, also known as defensive pessimism, helps “protect them from what they imagine to be the slings and arrows of hustlers and higher-ups.” If they assume from the outset that a client can’t be trusted, or that a new mother-in-law will be a witch, they will be well prepared in the event these fears come true.

Casting a cynical eye on situations you can’t control reduces your emotional attachment to a particular outcome, says Yapko, and actually lowers your vulnerability to depression.

Cynics’ propensity to spot setups and snow jobs before the rest of us also makes them socially valuable. Infamous cynic Maureen Dowd, for instance, did a Pulitzer-winning job of highlighting tragic flaws in the Clinton administration. “Cynics deserve more respect than they get,” Bayan says. “You need naysayers who will shout down ideas that are extreme or just plain foolish.”

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.


  • We have every reason to have a critical viewpoint in our lives.

    If we walk down the street we’ll see idiots turning in without indicating. We’ll have to avoid cars parked on driveways. We’ll have to walk past groups of people that don’t have the common courtesy to move aside, and the occasional lout that’s willing to spit and swear on and in the street.

    We’ll walk into a supermarket that earns millions annually and pays it’s staff less than what it will cost them to support a basic lifestyle. And we’ll buy products that are marketed as something that they’re not.

    We’ll walk past single mums having a $6 cup of coffee whilst wearing $300 sunglasses, or fake $300 sunglasses, and have the luxury to do so as their lifestyle is at least partially paid for by the state.

    Then we’ll come home, pop the TV on, pay electricity prices that are far in excess of what they used to be, all because of the reduced availability of power, despite solar power having been successfully developed approx 50 years prior, and despite the excessive use of power by manufacturers. Then we’ll watch a news story about another major manufacturer threatening to go down the tubes unless the government throws another few hundred million dollars at them whilst the CEOs receive their multi million dollar bonuses overseeing a plant that makes cars much the same as any other car that’s available on the market.

    Negativism, cynicism, being critical – it’s all much of the same thing if you ask me. And it’s absolutely necessary.

    • I’m going to pick on one thing you said here because this is a pet peeve of mine.

      The single-mum government pension isn’t huge. It’s enough to live on, probably, but these mothers are not living a life of luxury unbeknownst to you or I. And if they want to buy a cup of coffee then they can. They have the same freedom as you do to buy things that make them happy because life is freakin’ hard, and we’re all in this together, and you don’t get to tell people who you deem inferior to you because of their life choices what they can and can’t spend their own money on. And yes, it’s their money, because the government said so and because we could all use a little help.

      Be a cynic if you want and enjoy the costs and benefits that go with that, but back way off dictating how other people approach their own lives or you’re probably going to notice that the people in your life get sick of being attacked by your critical views.

  • “The single-mum government pension isn’t huge. It’s enough to live on, probably, but these mothers are not living a life of luxury unbeknownst to you or I. ”

    But they are receiving money from the government, right?

    “And if they want to buy a cup of coffee then they can. ”

    Yeah, they can. And they (or at least some of them) can do that because they receive money from the government, which is paid for by tax payers, which includes me. Don’t expect me not to question where my tax money goes, i’m entitled to do that.

    “we’re all in this together”

    Yes, but we don’t all receive money from the state, do we. If we did then I would not have a point to make. But we don’t. Some of us go out there in this freakin’ hard life and do what we can to obtain an income. Others don’t.

    “you don’t get to tell people who you deem inferior to you because of their life choices ”

    Where did I say, or suggest that single mums that rely (at least partially) are inferior to me? I might have indicated (and I’m happy to clarify) that they’re more selfish than me. More of a burden than me. Less productive than me. Sure. I never said inferior.

    “spend their own money on”

    By “their own money” you are referring to money they’ve received from the state via tax payers hard work, right?

    “And yes, it’s their money, because the government said so and because we could all use a little help”.

    Oh, yes you do meant that. And of course it must me right because, as you say, the government said so. Case closed. And, by the way, do we all need help? Everyone takes money from the government do they? You have stats to back this up. I’m pretty sure you’ll struggle to quote any.

    “probably going to notice that the people in your life get sick of being attacked by your critical views”

    Well they’re entitled to get sick of them. The same way that I get sick of seeing the majority of people harp on about a load of crap with no common sense, logic or reason to back up their point of view.

    Seemingly according to you we’re all entitled to fritter away the money that’s given to us by the government as we please because afterall the government said we could and we all get such benefits in any case. What planet are you on.

    • I hear what you’re saying and it’s absolutely your right to question it – I just don’t know that the answer is as simple as you believe it to be.. Family matters are always complicated, especially when the child is very young – you can’t just leave them alone, and care is expensive to the point where they can often end up worse off than centrelink. Not to mention you can not easily just take many of the cost cutting measures a regular person might, like you might require a car, or you might require your own house – share houses with kids are the exception rather than the rule..

      That said, just for fun, let’s run a hypothetical.

      According to you’re looking at starting at $70-164 a day for younger child care – and even once they get to preschool you’re looking at around $60-110 a day for care necessary to do full time work.

      Assuming they earn 20% over minimum wage ($19.20 an hour) (pretty average for single parents imo), $768 income before tax a week. Also assuming they work the full 52 weeks, this would gross them $39,936 – in that bracket instantly costing them $3,572 in tax – down to ~$36,364.

      Assuming they get 5 weeks paid leave a year because they aren’t idiots and work decent jobs, they have to pay for care 5 days a week, 47 weeks a year.. 235 days at ~$60 a day… $14,100… Down to $22,264

      According to rent in Perth is $360-$470 with the lower prices being many hours by train to the city (and not listed prices in very regional areas that would be unreasonable to force people to move to), hours you need to pay for care.. Assuming the cheapest end of the spectrum ($360) in combination with the cheapest care above might not even be possible, however we will assume it is – $18,720 a year… Down to $3,544

      Time wise, you have 168 hours a week – assuming a healthy 8 hours sleep a night, 56 hours a week – down to 110… 40 hours work, down to 60… Travel time of at least 1 hour a day for work and depositing/collecting kids, 7 hours a week… Down to 53.. Assuming 5 hours of personal time a week (everyone needs a break), down to 48.


      Centrelink on the other hand is roughly $700 a fortnight for single parents…. $18,200 a year. Then you get the family tax payments A+B – Assuming the maximum for both, that’s $8,643 a year… Up to $26,843..

      Assuming you work to the maximum under these payments (~$90 a week), that’s another $4,680 a year.. Up to $31,523.. Which is all still taxed, down to $28,992..

      Allowing for a small amount of child care (everyone needs a break) – say, 5 hours a week at the cheapest price listed on that site (above, $15 an hour) – $75 a week, as well as care during your limited time at work (5 hours + 1 hour travel) – $90 a week… $165 a week, $8,580 a year… Down to $20,412.

      The main other life cost being housing as above – $14,100… Down to $6,312.

      They also have much better access to medicines and free healthcare than if they were employed to that level, but uninsured, as well as cheaper public transport and some other fringe benefits that i’m sure add up significantly over a year, especially with very young children.

      Time wise, 168 hours a week as above, 56 hours sleep, 5 hours for a break, 6 hours for work – 101 hours a week with your kids.


      $3,544 to live on for two people for a year working full time

      – versus –

      $6,312 to live on for two people for a year with lower medical costs and 47% more time with your kids

      From these extremely sketchy figures, it does appear that a single mother is indeed better off on Centrelink – however I don’t at all think it’s a bad thing.. I think it makes a lot of sense for especially single parents to spend so much time with their kids, let alone to turn down an offer of a better life on the basis of some mythical moral high ground.

      Comparing the numbers, it’s a win/win business decision.

      • Thanks Michael. I did try to read it all, but there was no attempt of analysis.

        I get your point(s). It is in the financial, parenting and lifstyle interests for the single parent to choose to take their money from the government.

        Is that in MY interests? Does that help other tax payers?

        Simple answer, no.

        Should the single parent have given more consideration to whether or not they should have children if they would need to be so reliant on the state should they do so? Well, again, a mythical moral question that some might say no it’s the parents right to procreate as they choose, and others might say yes they should be responsible and not be an unnecessary burden on the state.

        Either way. Whether or not it benefits them and the child to leech from the state and others hard work, could they not, please, fritter it away on overly expensive, unnecessary luxuries that a lot of people choose to deny themselves as they’re being financially responsible. Or could they go and get a bloody job. Well forget that, they’re too selfish for that.

        • I would disagree, the future generations happiness and health is pretty much paramount. That’s not necessarily to say that just because you’re around a lot you’re a good parent though by any means.

          I’d definitely also say there are better ways for a lot of this.. Like for example a system where single parents who were capable of doing so were forced into some kind of activites program – you know, running soccer games for kids, doing art classes, etc etc, or even helping with online planning of such activities or something. Really build up that community spirit in an active way – though many parents do this stuff regardless.

          Even possibly government subsidised care most of the week in exchange for helping at a creche once or twice a week – an added bonus, every parent that goes has to undergo ‘job training’ which ensures they know and are attentive to the basic needs of children in general.

      • If you choose to have kids that should be your problem not the goverments.
        Welfare for low income families only encourages the people that can least afford children to have them.

        • The problem with universal rules is that life generally isn’t universal. For example, do you know for a fact what percentage are what most people would call “Bludgers” versus those which perhaps lost their partner to cancer? or to a car accident?

          And the future well being of children is more or less the only thing the government should care about, as every protection is there for the betterment of the next generation. In this way, it is paramount and deserves government sponsorship.

          As I say above, I would like to see more structure to that, but given every single parent I know does all that community building stuff (which you may not see as important if it’s not something you use – but it is vital for the health and happiness of a segment of society) anyway, it’s not really that important, and would probably cost millions in administration costs.

          The childs wellbeing now and into the future that is all that is important. Whether they were born out of love, lust, or an intent to work the system is irrelevant. The child exists and should be put first above all else.

          Edit: Note that I don’t think necessarily giving them money alone ensures this – but then, it’s also not really anyone’s place to tell them how to raise their kids.. The same way any parent would not like that without just cause/reasons.

          • Ummm… who did I call a bludger? And lots of responses to things I never said. Way to invent your own argument.

      • Lol. I’m not getting why people feel the need to inform others that they didn’t read it. They weren’t obliged to. Should I go the library, and take stacks of books to the counter and inform the clerk that I didn’t read them.

        Should I go to a clothes store and take clothes to the counter and say, sorry I didn’t try them on.

        Can someone please do that and tell me what happens.

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