The Russian soul really is more brooding

Igor Grossmann sighed as he walked across the University of Michigan campus. All happy psychologists resemble one another, each unhappy psychologist is unhappy in his own way, he mused.

His research had shown that Russians were indeed more brooding than Americans. But, through some strange vagary of fate, they were less likely to feel depressed as a result.

“Among Westerners, focusing on one’s negative feelings tends to impair well-being, but among Russians, that is not the case,” the Ukrainian murmured to himself, yearning as ever for the fertile plains of his native land and his lost love Olga.

“Russians focus more on their negative feelings than Americans do, but they spontaneously distance themselves from their emotions to a greater extent than Americans, who tend to immerse themselves in their recalled experiences.”

Grossman and his colleagues spent long, dark months examining the prevalence of depression amongst Russians and Americans, as well as their tendency to brood on their misfortunes.

He discerned that the Russians brooded more – indeed, he found, they only liked to count their troubles.

The most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything, Grossman mused.

But despite this, the Russians were less depressed.

Grossman could not rest until he found the explanation, and as a consequence asked his subjects to recall a recent unpleasant interpersonal experience. Their level of distress was unblinkingly observed.

Then, the participants bared their very souls, and revealed to Grossman whether they remembered these dreadful events as a participant or as an observer.

Tears stood in the young psychologist’s eyes as he comprehended that the Russians  were more likely than Americans to distance themselves from their experience, and thus suffered less from distress.

Manuscripts don’t burn. Grossman’s appears in Psychological Science.