Five reasons why the stiff upper lip is good for you

Remains of the Day
Best of British: Anthony Hopkins (left) has extreme SUL in Remains of the Day - PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

You may have seen the news, courtesy of a Cambridge University study, that a stiff upper lip might not be the Victorian straitjacket we’ve come to view it as.

For some time now it’s long been accepted that the stiff upper lip (as opposed to the wobbly one) is high up on the list of things we British have got badly wrong, to our emotional detriment. Let it all out, talk it through and you’ll be healthier and happier – that’s the received wisdom.

Only now, scientific research suggests we were right all along and the opposite might be true: burying your emotions could help to prevent negativity taking over, and may actually be better for your mental health in the end.

Not before time, we need to reconsider the situations when a stiff upper lip (SUL) is a good idea…

When you hurt yourself

Obviously there’s a question of degree involved here, but in the case of the light injury it pays to maintain an SUL. There are practical reasons for this. If you receive a flesh wound that might require a stitch while chopping the onions on a Saturday night the best policy is not to make a fuss. (A Saturday night in A&E while the doctors are all on the picket line? Take a paracetamol). Also, we just have more time for people who make light of their minor ailments rather than, say, cancelling because they might have a cold coming on.

Note: there is a special SUL rule for women which is: never, ever show that it hurts if you have been playing a game of football. Similarly with men who have attempted to leap over a fence in public/fallen down behind the sofa while dancing vigorously/accidentally hammered a finger while hanging a picture/done anything at all that has led to pain in front of a stranger, or the very cool neighbour, or the children who told them not to start on it in the first place because it would end in tears.

When you’re a victim of travel chaos

A good contemporary example of a situation where we’d all appreciate full stiff-upper-lip employment is at the airport, when the flight has been “delayed” (translation: you’re not getting out of here until Monday). We get it. We’re in the same situation. The thing standing between us and insanity is maximum SUL plus humour. Nobody likes the red-faced man roaring “My Wife Is Very Distressed”. What we like is the calm smiley man, or the dry witty man, and a wife quietly sipping on the duty free. Same goes for the Bus Replacement Service meltdown. Stop shouting and stamping and get us a Costa Coffee.

After a break up

Back in the old days you were allowed a 48-hour pass to sob and rage but currently the feeling is that it’s good to talk about heartbreak with everyone you know all the time. What we’ve discovered (now backed up by the science) is that you can definitely have too much of the feelings soup. What works a lot better after a sensible amount of time (say, three to six weeks) is pretending you don’t give a stuff, after which you will not give a stuff a lot faster. Do not go to the party and sob into your cocktail; instead, go to the party and do some SUL flirting.

When experiencing a first-world problem

Hold on, so, your gardener got a new job? Your shepherd’s hut got flooded? You left your shopping in a taxi? Very noticeable in the last few years is that some people have lost perspective as to what exactly counts as a crisis that’s worthy of meltdown, and they are quite happy to call you up in a state of emotional distress which makes you think the dog has died. Note: there is no need to show any SUL whatsoever when the dog dies.

When you get dumped on at work

You didn’t get the promotion, you got the extra work without the salary. Two choices: sob uncontrollably in the loo then take the week off sick; or, two, get your SUL face on and plan your revenge (moving to the competition at a peak busy time).

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