Why You Might Get More Than You Think By Looking For The Worst

You have to be brave enough to look. And when you do, you might be surprised at all it takes to make you feel miserable.

You have to look. It’s a lesson we all learn over and over again in our daily lives. How often do we stop right in our tracks and feel awful? That’s the truth of a surprising new book based on interviews with more than 10,000 people: the first systematic look at the relationship between mental health and the tendency to suffer from a particular mental illness.

It’s called The Worst at the Top and it explores the relationship between depression and the desire to be an asshole — the so-called “shit test.” It’s not entirely a fun read, but it’s also helpful, because it shows why, among other things, that one person’s sad isn’t necessarily everyone else’s.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In the mid 1980s, a guy named Richard Wiseman interviewed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Vladimir Nabokov to Steve Jobs . What he learned was that some people’s best qualities aren’t particularly useful or attractive. “People with an ego have a tendency to think there are always, and only, good things about themselves,” he tells me. “I like to think people who aren’t big on themselves are kind of like that, but there’s an exception to the rule.” When you’re depressed, the person in front of you may seem like a nice person, but they’re really just trying to do everything in their power to get you to love them. The most effective strategy is to convince you that you’re wrong and their own good qualities can’t possibly exist. “If someone’s trying to convince you that they’re a very nice person with a nice personality,” Wiseman says, “it’s very likely they’re not that nice.”

You can tell when this is going on just by looking at them. “When you see someone who is trying to convince you they’re nice, but is actually incredibly insecure and self-centered and doesn’t really care what you think about them or anything like that, that looks like a shit test,” Wiseman says. “If someone has this kind of self-perception problem, the easiest way to figure out they’re depressed is to try to convince them they’re a nice person. It’s probably not going to work.”

So how are certain people who might try to convince you they’re nice different from those who genuinely just want to be around you? Well, just like a really self-involved person who doesn’t really want to be around a friend who tries to tell him stuff he doesn’t want to hear, a self-absorbed person who doesn’t want to be surrounded by anyone who doesn’t appreciate his or her shit isn’t that different from everyone else. “The key is that your friends might be a bit more tolerant,” Wiseman says.

A friend might not get your sarcastic sarcasm or the time-honored way you call someone an asshat but they might have more tolerance for it. Some people have more tolerance for depression (or any mental illness) than others. “Some people seem to be more tolerant of being around these people. Some people are more inclined to believe what someone says, like the person with the fucked up self-perception.”

Some people might get a little irritated with your shit test but still be ok with you being there, according to Wiseman. Another important thing to consider is whether you’ve experienced some trauma in the past that has made you less agreeable or agreeable yourself — or, alternately, that you might actually become happier if you do get someone to like you.