Terrible pictures from Japan, blood in the Middle East. But good news for Berlin!
A new study by Californian sociologists shows that grumpy people live longer. Complain about the S-Bahn, kick your neighbour’s dog, show your back if a customer asks for information– and you can be sure that you are adding a couple of years to your life. According to a Stanford University survey of 1,500 people–first selected as schoolkids in 1921–cheerful people, the irritating ones that smile at you in the street, die early.
The logic runs as follows: ostentatiously happy people are risk takers. They are more likely to drink, smoke and dart across busy roads to catch a bus. But there is a strong statistical correlation between grumbling pessimists and people who are careful about their health, get regularly checked by doctors and save for private pensions. Miserable Berliners fear the worst and are therefore more conscientious planners.
This can be empirically tested. Berliners live longest in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Steglitz-Zehlendorf and die earliest in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.But why? Because they are grumpier in the Kantstrasse than in the Bergmannkiez? Or because they are richer?
I decided to carry out the baker test, one of the most sophisticated ways of testing public opinion available to foreign correspondents.The early morning purchase of coffee and Schrippen, in the strategically important hours between 0630 and second breakfast at 0930 is the moment to test the national mood. Witty banter can set you up for the day: shrill criticism can leave you snarling.
In the Schlossstrasse in Steglitz , a harmless attempt to buy a Pudding Bretzel, landed me in a queue of unhappy, hungry Berliners as one of the shop workers cleaned the oven, another tried to repair the broken coffee machine and a third took her cigarette break. Surprisingly the line (mainly men either escaping the office or out of work) accepted this with the cow-like placidity more commonly found in the British. But when one brave soul pointed impatiently at his watch, the boss snapped: “Do you think the world revolves around you? ” Suddenly we all felt like hen-pecked husbands, bullied even in our coffee break.
But, hey, at least, our life span had been extended! Others have confirmed the rise of the Charlottenburg Baecker-Hexe.The writer Ferdinand von Schirach, who God knows has dealt with enough murderers in his time, told me the other day about a nice gentleman who came into his local bakery , spry and good humoured, and praised the large selection of cakes. “So difficult to choose,” he sighed. “Which ones do you want removed?” barked the Chefin.
In Mehringdamm by contrast I found a charming saleswoman. There appeared to be a Marzipan-croissant crisis– apparently it has become a hot favourite in Kreuzberg–and she offered to sprinkle castor sugar on normal croissants to make them slightly more acceptable.
Now, of course, this may not be a definitive case study. People do live longer in Charlottenburg not just because they have been abused at the doctors but because there is a preponderance of Seniorenheime. But it is a fallacy, in Germany at least, that the rich live longer than the poor. The income gap between, say, a junior doctor and a bus driver is so small that it makes nonsense of any serious class distinction. Doctors welcome private patients–supposedly the richer members of the community–but I don’t think they get particularly special treatment. They wait for the same amount of time as Kassenpatienten in the waiting room of my Hausartzt; they get the same quality of diagnosis and almost always the same medication. They don’t live longer.
So I’m prepared to believe Stanford university’s grumpiness theory. All their other findings make sense. For example: the grown children of divorced parents die almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. Getting married does not have a life-extending effect, but men who remarry after their wives die, do live longer. Working less does not help you live longer–the long-livers continued to work beyond the age of 65. Looking at the Bezirk statistics, all this helps to explain why you need to move south west and abandon the idea of a care-free happy-go-lucky existence if you want to stretch out your years a bit. And wipe that grin off your face.
But as Woody Allen once said you can live to be a hundred only if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred. If in doubt, try the Baker Test.