“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.
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.
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!
This is a great article. I will definitely try all these suggestions!
This article is too long.
lol…I see what you did there….
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!
Daniel Hayes says
Wow, Joshua…I think you nailed it with this one! Well done!
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 :)
Thanks so much for this article. I know I’m guilty of doing this and I will be doing my best of embracing the idea of experimentation!
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
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!