It's common to hear people say things like, "You just can't trust anyone nowadays," or, "It really is every man for himself in today's world." People who say such things often believe a healthy dose of skepticism and distrust are necessary to get by.

And while studies do show cynicism in high-crime areas can be a benefit, it can be harmful in most other circumstances. Studies have linked high levels of cynicism to everything from health problems to higher risks of dementia. Researchers have even found that cynical people make $3,600 less per year than their more positive counterparts.

The Cynicism Test

In 1954, two researchers--Cook and Medley--developed a 5-item scale that measured chronic hate and anger. Over time, a simpler subscale was developed.

This 9-item scale is a measure of cynical distrust. To test yourself, review how true you think the following statements are:

  1. I think most people would lie to get ahead.
  2. Most people inwardly dislike putting themselves out to help other people.
  3. Most people make friends because friends are likely to be useful to them.
  4. It is safer to trust nobody.
  5. No one cares much what happens to you.
  6. Most people are honest chiefly through fear of being caught.
  7. I commonly wonder what hidden reasons another person may have for doing something nice to me.
  8. Most people will use somewhat unfair means to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.

It's likely you aren't cynical about everyone all the time. Instead, there's a spectrum of just how cynical you might. The more true you find those statements, the more cynical you are.

How to Reduce Your Cynicism

A cynical outlook leads to a self-perpetuating cycle. If you believe everyone is bad, you'll struggle to develop healthy relationships. And in the absence of positive relationships, your beliefs that people are bad will likely be reinforced.

If you've become a little more cynical than you'd prefer, you can take steps to reduce your cynicism. Putting yourself out there and trying to trust others one small step at a time can be helpful.

You also may want to check who you surround yourself with. If everyone around you really does lie and cheat to get ahead or they are annoyed by the prospect of helping someone, your circle of influence may give you a skewed view of the world.

Sometimes, old wounds lead to high levels of cynicism. If that's true in your case, you may need to do some healing before you can truly believe the world--and the people in it--aren't all bad.

Published on: Dec 7, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.