How to Complain Less

complain-less

“You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” —Tom Wilson

Life is not perfect. It never has been and never will be. This is not bad news. In fact, once we begin to embrace this reality, we welcome a great number of possibilities. Life is never perfect. We know this to be true.

Why then, do we continue to complain about its imperfections?

We complain about the weather, the traffic, and the weeds in our yard. We complain about tight clothing, misplaced keys, late airplanes, and the price of gasoline. We complain about our jobs or our lack of jobs. We complain about nosy neighbors, crying babies, ungrateful teenagers, and lazy spouses. We have become a society too quick to complain.

Complaining is almost never a positive reaction to our circumstance. (tweet that)

There are times, of course, when notifying someone of an injustice is good and proper. But most of the time, we express feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment simply because it is our natural response.

But this response ought to be reconsidered in our lives because it is rarely healthy. In fact, there are many negative outcomes to this reaction. Complaining feeds and breeds a negative response. Additionally,

  • It fosters a negative attitude. Complaining draws our attention to the negative aspects and circumstance around us. And focusing on the negatives always brings about greater negativity. Complaining never results in joy—it only sinks us deeper into our misery.
  • It negatively impacts those around us. Complaints spread negativity. By focusing on and drawing attention to the problems and discomforts around us, we direct other people towards it too. Misery loves company.
  • It doesn’t change our circumstance. Taking action does. But complaining words by themselves do not.
  • It disqualifies the value of discomfort in our lives. Discomfort—both physical and emotional—can have profound benefit for our lives. There are countless life lessons that can only be learned by embracing discomfort: patience and perseverance just to mention a few. Become OK with discomfort. You’ll be glad you did.
  • It is highly unattractive. It is unenjoyable to spend time around people who constantly highlight the negatives. And not only unattractive, the self-centered emphasis of complaining can be annoying as well.
  • It leaves us in victim-mode. One of the greatest obstacles to lasting change is blame. And complaining finds its foundation almost entirely in blame.

On the other hand, there are numerous benefits to complaining less. It shifts our focus to the positive. It allows gratitude to take root. And cheerfulness can be an excellent beautifier.

How then, might we begin to overcome the habit of complaining? First, admit lifestyle changes can take time. And then, consider adopting some of these helpful steps below.

How to Complain Less.

1. Consider the importance of adopting the change. Many of us complain only because we have never considered the alternative. We have never been alerted to its harmful effects—both in us and around us. We never considered there may be a better way. But when given the choice, most of us would prefer to give life rather than drain life with our words. Determine to do just that.

2. Embrace the recognition of an imperfect world. Life is not always going to serve up what we would like (or even expect) at every turn. There will be trouble, trial, and pain. Again, this is okay. And the sooner we stop holding out for a world that revolves around us, the sooner we can embrace the fact that our contribution is far more needed than our pleasure. Discomfort should not surprise us—and we are not the only ones experiencing it.

3. Understand the difference between helpful criticism and complaint. There are times when it is entirely appropriate to raise attention to a wrong being committed. This can be helpful and should never be discouraged. Decipher if the situation can and should be resolved. If not, there is a good chance our complaints have no real interest in dialogue, problem solving, or human connection. And in that case, they should be avoided.

4. Be mindful of your audience. Are you speaking to someone who can help solve the problem or has a vested interest in bringing about a resolution? If so, use problem-solving language. If not, tread lightly. If you must continue, preface your complaint with impact-reducing language. For example, beginning with “Can I just vent for a minute or two?” may be all you need to orient yourself and your listener toward your purpose and be helpful in reminding yourself to keep it brief.

5. Avoid beginning conversations with a complaint. Take notice of how often we initiate conversations with a complaint. Often times, even subconsciously, this tactic is used because it garners a heightened response. Remove it from your arsenal. And try spreading some cheer with your opening line instead.

6. Refuse to complain for the sake of validation. Sometimes our complaints are used to validate our worth to others. “I’m so busy,” is a good example. We often say it as a means to subtly communicate our importance. Don’t seek to impress others with your complaints. That strategy won’t gain you any friends in the long run anyway.

7. Notice your triggers. Is there a specific time period of the day you tend to complain more than others? Morning, evening, or late afternoon? When your spouse is home? When you are drinking coffee or lunch with your friends? Maybe it is around the water cooler with your co-workers? Take notice. Then, avoid triggers if possible. If they cannot be avoided, make a point to be extra vigilent when you see them arise.

8. Embrace the idea of experimentation. Setting a goal of “never, ever complaining again” may be counter-productive. Instead, try designating a short period of time where you can be particularly mindful. For example, decide to go just one day without complaining. This shorter time period will allow you to concentrate more fully on your goal. The shortened, experimental time frame will foster increased sensitivity.

Mindless complaining serves little purpose in our lives. It fosters displeasure, spreads negativity, and sparks conflict. We’d live happier without it. Moving forward, let’s recognize and embrace the positive instead.

Image: baronsquirrel

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hmmm … I need to work on this.
    Giving up some of my sense of entitlement to comfort, and learning to express the good things not the bad. I like to exaggerate and make my problems sound more impressive than they really are. I think this is even why we don’t have more children. When my husband came home from work each night he just heard complaints about the “nightmare hour” from 5-6pm, and didn’t ever hear much about our good times.
    Thanks for the kick in the pants ..I think …

    • Becky M. Costello says

      Fiona~~what a brave soul you are for reconizing how this applies to you. I can only pray that I am that insightful~~

  2. Kristin says

    This is a great post that more people should read. A year and a half ago, I made the conscious decision to eliminate the complainers from my life because I felt the behavior taking over and influencing my overall mood. I have not regretted it for a second. My stress has gone down. Negativity has become a very small part of my thought process. If something bothers me now, I ask myself, “Is there anything you can do about it right now?” If the answer is yes, then I do it. If not, I refuse to complain. This has made life so much more enjoyable!

    • says

      I should probably do the same thing! It can be hard though, when the complainers are people you live/work near. It’s easy to get sucked into they’re complaining mode too, and I find that I complain more when I’m around “complainers”.
      Sometimes identifying the complaining when it is happening and putting a positive spin on it can be helpful. Respond to complaining with, “wow, what are you going to do about that?” That can help jog their mind and get them out of “complain mode” and into “action mode”.

      • says

        I used to work with a woman who was a chronic complainer. I tried the “What are you going to do about that?” route with her. I even tried friendly suggestions when she came up blank about how to solve her “problems”. The truth was that she didn’t want a solution. She wanted validation. As Joshua suggested in point #6, she was trying to make herself seem important. When she realized I wasn’t going to validate her complaints, guess what… She stopped complaining to me. Sadly, she then chose to complain/gossip about me to others. But at least I was able to minimize her direct influence on me by avoiding talking to her except when necessary – always keeping it friendly so as to avoid giving her something real to complain about.

        We will never be able to eliminate complainers from our lives. But you can minimize their influence by how you react to them, and by how you carry yourself around them. Easier said than done some days. But worth it for your own peace of mind in the long run.

      • Kristin says

        Yes, it can be very hard. I lost some long-time friends because of it and I know my disappearing act hurt them. Immature on my part but I got to the point where I had to do what was right for me. I love the “what are you going to do about it” line. I will definitely use that one with the people I can’t avoid.

        • laura m. says

          Kristin: Been there too, it was a mature move, and you did it for your well being and it wasn’t easy for me either. When you reach retirement you can be picky choosing friends as you are not in a work environment, as hubby said. I worked part time but not around people in an office setting.

    • laura m. says

      To solve the problem of being around gossips and losers, we chose to become semi reclusive and stick with a handful of well chosen friends. I have learned as I got older that real friends are scant, those who practice common decency, do not use you and accept you as you are, as many lack ethics and morals to incl church folks. I read, use the computer, housework, errands to run, meals to fix, etc. listen to radio and some TV movies. Husband and I choose to live a low key life; we dropped out of civic/ org activities many years back as we saw people using others, and no appreciation for things done . We quit voting, joining any org. over thirty years ago incl. church for same reasons to avoid hassles and gossips, etc.. We rarely answer the phone and screen calls. People choose this kind of life to have more free time.

  3. says

    Complaining less was my goal a few years ago when a little child said unwittingly to me – Why do you whine so? As it was coming from a little girl that whined herself quite often, I took it to mean, I was in bad company indeed. I started watching myself for any hint of outwardly complaint – I stopped complaining so much so that people actually berated me for not speaking up about certain items. I had gone then to the other extreme. I then watched myself in thought as well. I knew that even though I wouldn’t complain outwardly, I would definitely be whining mentally. Making sure I keep a balance of complaining if absolutely necessary and keeping my mind pure as well is my task nowadays. Thanks for the post! It reminded me of the beginning of my journey so long ago.

    • says

      I Love this post, and your comment BrownVagabonder! I am a complainer, and know I need to be better. I have befriended a few who NEVER complain, and at first, perceived it as fear and not trusting ME (selfish to think that I know). Then I wondered if they were trying to ACT perfect, which agitated me, because that is not honest. Honesty is my biggest hang up. If I ever feel like someone is lying to me, I don’t want to be their friend. BUT with that said, I’ve come to realize that some people just want to be happy and that is their way of doing so. I, myself could teach myself a few of the tricks mentioned above! I never want to come off as fake….but I still think it’s possible to try and limit the complaining without being fake! :) Thanks for a great and insightful post!

  4. says

    One of the things that I love about my husband is that he very rarely complains. I make it a high priority to not complain and to try to see the bright side of things. Hearing my children complain can wear down my patience quickly — and, thankfully, the Lord showed me on a particularly “whiny” day how to teach them to not complain — I said to them, “you can voice your displeasure about something once but you are not allowed to voice your displeasure over and over and over. I will acknowledge your displeasure although I will likely not change my mind about a decision. Please try to focus on all of the great things that you can be thankful and happy about instead of focusing on the one tiny thing that I said no to.” It’s a journey, for sure!

  5. Aggie says

    Thanks for showing me how sick and tired I am of being sick and tired of all the negativity that I’m drowning in all around me. I need to get out of the quagmire of troubles and trying to “fix” everything and everyone around me. My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ. I know in theory to Let Go & Let God, but have difficulty in practice. I need to daily think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy ( Philippians 4:8 ). I need to climb out of thus downward spiral and focus on Jesus. Only then can I lead my family by example to a better way of living. Thank you again, and God bless you.

  6. says

    Oh how true : “5. Avoid beginning conversations with a complaint.” How often have I not done that – just as a conversation starter… This was a good reminder. I will sure try to think about this in the future and in stead start with a positive sentence. One of the many nice things I remember about my grandma was that whenever one of us grandkids would spill something at the table she would always smile and say “perfect – now I have a good reason to change the table cloth” She never got upset about it – and I like the attitude.

    • Sally says

      I can certainly use that one about the tablecloth, I love it!

      I need to work on this. Mostly I don’t think I complain too much – but when I do my husband hears the lot – probably too much for him. Today – no complaints.

  7. says

    I found that in my case, complaining was a symptom and not the problem.

    I complained because I was UNHAPPY. I was unhappy with myself, my life, and my circumstances. Once I began to see that I had the power to change my situation, I became much more action-oriented and positive.

  8. SptBike says

    I’m so guilty of this. There is a key comment in there. If you can affect change thru awareness of the situation… and if it will benefit more than yourself… Then, in my opinion, it is worth the consideration for bringing attention to the issue. Otherwise….

  9. says

    I wrote a post on my discontentment in caring for my home and family this past week on my blog and I know it was from a complaining spirit. This was a great reminder and one I will keep in mind, writing some of your quotes down too!

  10. Jean-Pierre says

    Great quote. I read it is originally from lebanese poet Khalil Gibran (1883-1931):

    هُناك مَن يَتذمر لأن للورد شَوكاً ، وَ هُناك مَن يَتفاءل لأن فَوق الشّوك وَرد

    Some whine because there are thorns on roses.
    Others rejoice because there is a rose on thorns.

  11. says

    It’s true; sometimes I find myself complaining about things that don’t even bother me that much, just as a way of starting a conversation.

    I think we also tend to complain to make ourselves more relatable to others. For example, “oh my gosh, kids, don’t they just drive you crazy sometimes?!” is a way of opening up a conversation on a sort of “I’m just like you!” level, or to promote a feeling of being in the same boat.

  12. Sharle Kinnear says

    I have found complaining to be a bad habit, and like any habit, it can be broken. The key is awareness. Keep a tally of the times you complain out loud and/or silently. Most of us do it far more often than we’re aware of! My trigger seems to be talking to other whiners: I can get into that mode very quickly when others are complaining. It becomes a contest to see whose complaints are the most worthy of sympathy . . . Break the habit and you’ll be happier and attract happier people.

  13. Melissa McIntyre says

    Gah, why did you have to write a whole post about complaining? Couldn’t you have just wrote a normal post?…….. LOL! JUST kidding!!! LOVE this Joshua! As a momma of six little ones I am quite familiar with complaining. While my children are far from perfect they complain FAR less than many adults that I know :-) Thank you for this I intend to pass it on.

  14. says

    Embracing imperfection is hard for me because I struggle with not judging others.. and when I judge others for making a mistake, then I have to judge myself when I make the same mistake.. so the journey for me starts like you say.. by acknowledging an imperfect world and not only accepting when times are rough, but also forgiving first mistakes that others make, and then my own.

    You make an interesting point about triggers, for sure there are some situations and times of day when I tend to get all bitchy. With the awareness the complaining should hopefully become less prevalent.. at least when I make an effort.

    While I agree that complaining less is a virtue, abstaining from criticism isn’t necessarily a good thing… but as you say, focus more on the positive. That’s almost a mantra to live by.

  15. Lim says

    Thank you. Just the article I need now. Learning to stay positive now. I am most likely the top 2% of the world’s most blessed being and I shall be grateful for it and keep on working hard!

  16. Rich says

    Terrific post, and so true. I used to be a major complainer in my younger years and I believe this often ties in with low self esteem. Over time, self-reflection, self-confidence and self-consciousness have improved my outlook on life greatly, although it can be easy to fall into old patterns when things seem overwhelming. Reading this reaffirms the need to be mindful of our thoughts and words!

  17. Charmaine says

    Love this – thanks for writing it! I think for me I try to remind myself that imperfections in the world and in other people are reflections of imperfections in myself – maybe not reflections, exactly, but a reminder that no one or nothing is perfect, and in a way, thank goodness, because it’s an awful lot of pressure to try to be perfect!

  18. says

    This was a great post for me to read. I really need to work on this and I think this is the perfect time with starting a new job next week. I am going to print this post out and keep it by my desk as inspiration. Thank you!

  19. John says

    Bank of America foreclosed on my house in September 2011 and the loan modification continues, covered for a variety of medical bills which weren’t getting paid so now various individuals have court judgments against me and wage garnishments, wife’s 4th operation for her stomach problems hasn’t solved much and special Ed daughter that ran off with boyfriend, but has since returned has no high school diploma and little job opportunities. I don’t think anything on this site is much help our should I be more optimistic?

    • Renee s says

      I don’t think I can help with anything and there isn’t a quick fix, of course. But where do you live? Is there a developmental disability program? How old is your daughter? I bet there is a program that she can get into to help get her a developmentally acceptable job and possibly housing where she can be more independent (if that is physically possible).

      Is there a way to talk to the people who have court judgments and wage garnishments against you? Perhaps you could come up with a payment plan or they can forgive some part of what you owe. I do not know if you’ve tried that or not and it may be too late…but sometimes just explaining your situation calmly can help.

      Best of luck to you and your family…I’m sorry you are going through a hard time

  20. Renee s says

    I like this post :) I have learned that I always get whiney once the sun starts setting because I typically leave my lights off in my apartment and just rely on the sunlight. Well, when the sunsets–it gets dark and I get sad. I have learned that just by putting on the lights makes me so much happier, haha. It took me a while to figure that out. My roommate would come into the room and I’d be watching TV in the dark being a whiney pants. Simple switches really help.

    In high school, a friend and I used to talk about how people complain just to hear themselves talk, basically. We switched it around and started talking about positive things— “I am SO happy that I am not hungry right now.” Things like that…maybe it was silly, but it made us laugh :)

  21. Mike says

    Incisive post, Joshua. Its content reminded me of concepts in the Serenity Prayer–serenity in acceptance, courage in changing, and wisdom (discernment) in knowing what i can and cannot change.

    Thanks for provoking thought!

  22. Pam says

    Your newsletter arrived in my inbox at work today and it was just the perfect message for this day. I love the quotes and use them in my return emails often. Thank you for sharing your guidance and experience!

    pam

  23. Tam says

    I recently heard that if you enjoy a household annual income of just $40,000, you are richer than 95% of the rest of the world. That means that most of what we complain about are “rich people” problems – schedules, weather, traffic, etc. Most of us don’t have to worry about getting enough to eat or finding potable water. Most of us don’t have to walk for miles through dangerous territory to seek education or medical help. That was a wake up call for me. I have nothing to complain about. Recognizing that life is not fair, but that mine is vastly better than what others are experiencing, helps to keep daily annoyances in perspective.

  24. Allison says

    This post is such a good reminder. I work hard to live in gratitude, but sometimes I need to remember if I run out of gas, it means I have a car. If I am tired at the end of the day from demanding work, it means I have a job. And so on.

  25. Jordan says

    I have chronic pain , which has been around for almost 3 years now. I used to complain a lot, not want to get out of bed. I am blessed in that I have family and friends who fought to keep me moving. This year has been bad in terms of pain but all the people in my life are proud of my attitude, I keep moving, I don’t complain, and I started to focus on the positive. Life is better.

  26. Michelle says

    I get up very early because of my job, but I always get to see the sun rise!

    Some people complain and gripe about the hours, and while there are definitely days I would rather be in bed, I know that I can look forward to the sunrise. On those days when it is cloudy, there is often much more color and visual texture to enjoy.

    It is also a split shift, which can be difficult when you have to plan to stop at a certain time so you can get back to work, but I try to be positive about it, and remind myself that I don’t have to take time off to make appointments.

  27. Sue N. says

    If we forget to have compassion for ourselves then all the “trying” not to complain will be in vain, I believe. We need to look in ourselves (or in another) beneath the surface of the complaint and find the place of pain within ourselves… then just take a moment and offer ourselves compassion in that place… and then I have noticed in my own life that gratitude and love have a chance of flowing much more easily and the pain can be released. Otherwise it is just all effort and trying to remember rather than making lasting change from within. May peace be upon you.

  28. Laurie Crews says

    This is the third time I’ve read this and I get more from it each time. Thank you for taking the time to map this out for us. My life is changing in positive ways because of your writing.

  29. says

    Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I definitely get irked while people think about worries that they plainly do not know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal.
    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  30. Fred says

    Well was looking for how to complain less and found this. Really woke me up and gave me some good pointers. I do this and worry like crazy due to low money and my car needing licenced soon.. But the saying “Every thorn has a rose” is worth repeating over and over. Thanks so much.

  31. Linda says

    Talk about looking in a mirror!!! Mercy……do I ever have some growing to do!!! I could see myself in here so vividly……….and there certainly is a lot of room for improvement. I started today! What an eye-opening article, Joshua! How’d you get to be so smart at such a young age?? :) Thanks!!!

  32. Jordan says

    It is easy to complain, almost natural. I have been fighting the urge and instead replace with trying to understand the reason things are the way they are. Followed by brainstorming ways to change it. It is sort of working thanks for the reminder.

  33. Shelley says

    I am working on this, but it’s hard since I was brought up in a very negative, complaining atmosphere so it is a habit. I was wondering what a response would be to people who call me to complain when I don’t want to do that?

  34. Ann says

    I remember a well-known author who became convicted about how much she complained (gripe, whine, vent…a rose by any other name…). She was challenged to try one of the things you suggested: to go a day without allowing any negative talk to come out of her mouth. After catching herself many times and biting her tongue, she realized she didn’t actually talk very much at all that day.

  35. says

    I went to the doctor today, and they said I lost 20lbs. in the last 11 months, I’ve started exercising, eating better, and I found some friends to help me let go of some the things I was constantly complaining about! I still am working on letting go! It makes me, and everyone around me feel better!
    Thank you for the post!

  36. doyathinkso says

    I would love for the chronic “run the other guy down behind his back” complainers to understand how exhausting and unattractive it is to be in their company when they go off about other people. Its one thing to do a quick vent, but to go on and on….very unsexy.
    I wonder if it may be insecurity and by talking about others they feel better about themselves? Would it help to find sincere ways to complement these people? Whats the best way to end the complaining without alienating or angering the person? It’s not always a person you can simply walk away from. It could be a family member or spouse.

  37. Gail Cyan says

    I love the intent of this article. I needed to hear and be reminded to be ever intentional about how I use words to draw attention to something negative.

    Here is my spiritual hairball… I am really upset by recent events in our country about racial inequality (Furguson, MO, Beavercreek, OH, etc.). I am a white mother to an African American daughter, so I constantly try to challenge myself to see my white privilege and respond to these injustices through social media and in my conversations with others. I believe this must come across as complaining, as many in my white community respond in the ways that you describe in this article, as one would respond to complaining. So I guess I am wondering about the difference between complaining and advocating? And I question if it is not from a place of privilege that we are able to dismiss others advocating as complaining? If one feels powerless in the face of oppression, I deeply believe it is not an option to be silent… but how do you advocate without being dismissed as a complainer?

    Struggling with this.

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