I like Scientific American.  It is an educational read.  But I take issue with one of its recent headlines:  Be Sad and Succeed!  I’m interested in the studies mentioned, but this title cannot state a medically defensible conclusion.

There is substantial evidence for the proposition that those with a negative explanatory style — a pessimistic outlook — may view the world more accurately than those with optimistic explanatory styles.  But at what cost?  Substantial.  People with persistent pessimistic explanatory styles have more emotional troubles, try less and achieve less, and lead a lower quality of life than do those with positive outlooks.  (I touch on the issue here.)

So, if the point of the Scientific American article is that one can perhaps achieve greater focus when one is “grumpy,” I’m okay with that as far as it goes.  That even has an intuitive ring of truth to it — if one is looking for trouble, one may spot more trouble than someone with her head in the clouds.  But one cannot turn negative moods on and off at will.  And to the extent an unstated implication of the article — and the overstated message of the headline — is that one will “succeed” more if one is grumpy more often, that is demonstrably untrue, and risks pushing people — especially those at greatest risk — to overvalue a pessimistic outlook.  That’s bad advice.    I expect better from SciAm.