“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 vigilant 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.
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!
Anders @ www.AndersHasselstrom.com says
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas”
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Sandra Pawula says
Complaining makes us unhappy, doesn’t it? Is that the rub? Your logic is impeccable. I especially like the reminder of how complaining makes us unattractive!
Minimal Girl 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.
For sure! I do this ALL THE TIME!
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.