"Bad Karma" Is Real

Being hostile toward others is a recipe for heart disease.

Posted Nov 04, 2010

I got some very upsetting news this year. An enemy of mine suffered a life-threatening heart attack at age 52.

Yes, he was an enemy, but I can't say that I ever wished him any harm. He was just an angry, arrogant pest that I wished I didn't have to see every day. It was shocking to learn that this once robust man has now become very fragile.

At the same time, it was not all that surprising because cardiologists have long known that angry people tend to have more heart attacks. The reason they do is that chronic hostility causes both a constriction of the arteries and more blood being pumped to the heart, causing small tears in the arteries. Cholesterol and fat then attach to those tears, which can ultimately cause heart attacks [1]. Chronic hostility also has been linked to long-term elevations in white blood cells, which has been clearly associated with heart disease [2].

In a fascinating study, researchers followed the health of a group of medical students for 25 years to see if their levels of angry hostility at the beginning of the study could predict their heart disease rates down the road [3]. Incredibly, those participants who were highest in angry hostility at the beginning were 5 times more likely than their laid-back counterparts to have heart disease 25 years later.

This payback for angry hostility is the reason I say that "bad Karma is real". I am not talking about an afterlife, but rather that cause-and-effect relationship between being an ass and suffering heart attacks. People who give you the finger or honk loudly at you in traffic just because you drive through an intersection a tiny bit slowly are in trouble. They are building the foundation for their own heart disease. So instead of returning the road rage, maybe next time we can feel a little sorry for them (?)


1. Larsen, R. J., & Buss, D. M. (2010). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature. McGraw-Hill.

2. Surtees, P. et al. (2003). Inflammatory dispositions: A population-based study of the association between hostility and peripheral leukocyte counts. Personality and Individual Diferences, 35, 1271-1284.

3. Barefoot, J. C., Dahlstrom, W. G., & Williams, R. B. (1983). Hostility, CHD incidence, and total mortality: A 25-yr follow-up study of 255 physicians. Psychosomatic Medicine, 45, 59-63.