Baltimore's H. L. Mencken once wrote that "injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice." True for your head, maybe, but not your heart. It turns out there's nothing like the thought that you've been treated unjustly to give you chest pains.
In a study that, if not a definitive work of epidemiology, at least sounds too good not to be true, more than 8,000 British civil servants with no history or symptoms of cardiovascular disease were asked how strongly they agreed with the following statement: "I often have the feeling that I am being treated unfairly." The group was then tracked for nearly 11 years. Researchers discovered that those who strongly or moderately agreed with that statement were 55 percent more likely to have developed serious heart disease over that period than those who did not.
The study's authors speculate that feelings of unfairness are strongly linked to low social status and low self-esteem, and that such inward-focused negative emotions can eventually impair physical health. In other words, if you feel rejected long enough, you're probably going to get sick from it.
That's a pretty unfair state of affairs in itself, but at least it's probably not an unexpected finding to the pessimists who have already figured out what unpleasantness life has in store for them.
The only real surprise in the study was that the researchers from University College London and elsewhere could find so many government employees who believed they'd been treated fairly. Carefree civil servants, that's something worth closer scrutiny.
As for the less contented in Her Majesty's service, clearly all that's needed is just a healthy dose of optimism. Passed over for a promotion? The other guy deserved it. No bonus this year? Less to pay in taxes. Longtime spouse left you? That one shouldn't even require a rebuttal.
As Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss taught in Candide, since this is the only world possible, it really is the "best of all possible worlds." And though the 18th-century French writer was being satirical, he may have been on to something. He lived to be 83.