It’s probably not realistic to decide to never complain again, but setting limits can be beneficial. This article explores some of the reasons why people complain, the impact it can have on well-being, and steps to minimize daily complaints.
This is what happened when I stopped complaining for 30 days
Just hours into the challenge, I hopped on the phone with my health insurance provider to contest a bill. After being on hold for 45 minutes, disconnected a few times, and then transferred to a person who said the forms I mailed in three times hadn’t been received, a rant was inevitable. So, yes, I lost my cool a few times—especially after my car began leaking oil two days after I’d paid for an oil change. But the whole not complaining thing eventually got easier. Seven days in, I realized that I had become more aware of my criticisms. After complaining, I’d take a moment to stop and reconsider if the incident that inspired them was really worth grumbling about. For instance, one day a man in a car buzzed past me on the freeway and flicked me off for going too slow, unaware it was the car in front of me that was holding up the flow. Instead of getting mad, I took a moment to reframe the situation. “Maybe he is running late to an appointment. I know how stressful that can be,” I thought. And eventually, when I passed by the slow car that created the whole scenario, I realized it was a mother driving with a baby in the backseat. “She’s probably a new mom and being overly protective of her child. I’m sure I’ll be like that too one day,” I noted.
“When we focus on what is bothering us or not working in our lives, we automatically enter a space of negativity and pessimism and attract more of the same. Those individuals who continuously complain tend to alienate friends and family, release higher than normal stress hormones, and have a drastically reduced quality of life,” says psychotherapist Ilissa Nico. “Conversely, when we choose to focus on looking for the positivity in our lives, our entire outlook and the way in which we approach life changes.”
Taking a break from complaining made me more grateful
Whenever something triggered a complaint, I stopped to find something I could be thankful for about the situation. When I had to cancel plans to stay up late and finish a deadline, I stopped to think about how lucky I was to have the job that I was doing. When my dog had runny stools all over my backyard from eating wild berries, I shifted my focus toward how much joy he brings into my life on a daily basis. Of course I still occasionally complain, but the thoughts that follow my occasional negative outburst are a lot different than they used to be. I’m a lot more grateful and, consequently, have found that it’s definitely harder to justify what actually warrants a complaint.
As similar scenarios occurred throughout the following weeks, I began to harbor an enhanced sense of gratitude. I found myself taking moments to reshape my perspective and pausing to count my blessings in the face of something that was bothering me. As the month progressed, I eventually got to the point where I was able to keep the majority of my complaints at bay. Here are six realizations I had during the challenge: 1. It was pointless to complain about things that I had no control over. A lot of what I venting about was out of my hands, so complaining about it was pretty pointless. And the things that were bothering me that I could control, I had the power to change. In the time it took to gripe about tripping over my dog’s toy, I could just pick it up and move it into the backyard. And when the weather was too hot to go for a hike, I popped in a workout DVD instead. “A more useful option to complaining would be noticing what isn’t working and then just creating a better alternative,” says Ben Rode of The Rode Institute. “For example, instead of complaining to your girlfriends about sex with your husband, schedule date night once a week, read a book about improving things, or get the support of a professional.”
2. I began to focus more on the present. As I progressed through my challenge, I realized that a lot of my complaints were directed toward “what ifs”—whining about the way that I imagined a conversation would turn out before even having it, lamenting over how hard it would be to finish a task at work that actually turned out to be pretty easy… Turns out, complaining about things that haven’t happened yet is actually a massive waste of time. 3. I stopped using complaining as a bonding mechanism. Have you ever found yourself trying to strike up a conversation with a coworker or a stranger by wallowing over a certain situation? I realized I was doing that a lot. I’d be at a party and say, “I’ve been so busy lately. It sucks” or when waiting for an elevator to open, I’d often look at the person next to me and mutter, “Geez. This is taking forever.” So I set out to find positive things to talk about. I complimented a stranger’s shirt in line at a restaurant. And on a rainy day when traffic was terrible, I bonded with someone over how badly our city actually needed the rain. In doing this, I realized that people prefer to be around positive people and good attitudes are contagious.
4. I started to focus more on myself and less on what others were doing. I found that a lot of my complaining was directed toward the actions of others—someone walking too slow in front of me at a supermarket, a friend showing up late for coffee, etc. So instead of focusing on what others were doing, I began to pay attention to what I was doing. Maybe I needed to slow down in Whole Foods because who needs to be in that much of a hurry to get to the register? And if Julie was late to meet me this time, well at least I got there in time to secure a table. 5. I became a happier person. “When we focus on what is bothering us or not working in our lives, we automatically enter a space of negativity and pessimism and attract more of the same. Those individuals who continuously complain tend to alienate friends and family, release higher than normal stress hormones, and have a drastically reduced quality of life,” says psychotherapist Ilissa Nico. “Conversely, when we choose to focus on looking for the positivity in our lives, our entire outlook and the way in which we approach life changes.”
6. Taking a break from complaining made me more grateful. Whenever something triggered a complaint, I stopped to find something I could be thankful for about the situation. When I had to cancel plans to stay up late and finish a deadline, I stopped to think about how lucky I was to have the job that I was doing. When my dog had runny stools all over my backyard from eating wild berries, I shifted my focus toward how much joy he brings into my life on a daily basis. Of course I still occasionally complain, but the thoughts that follow my occasional negative outburst are a lot different than they used to be. I’m a lot more grateful and, consequently, have found that it’s definitely harder to justify what actually warrants a complaint.
Why Do People Complain?
- Emotional regulation: Sometimes people complain as a way to manage their emotions. By venting their feelings, they hope to lessen the severity of these distressing emotions.
- Mood: People may be more likely to complain when they are experiencing negative moods. The problem with this is that people complain more when they are in a bad mood. Their complaining then leads to further negative moods, creating a vicious cycle.
- Personality: Research suggests that certain personality traits play a role in how frequently people complain. Perhaps not surprisingly, people who rate high on the trait called agreeableness are the least likely to complain.
- Social factors: Other people can also influence how often people complain. Being around people who tend to complain a lot can make people more likely to air their own grievances. Shared complaining can also serve as a form of social bonding.
It’s not that most people sit around all day pointing out the negative in life—far from it. Most people may even actively seek to notice and talk about everything they have to be thankful for in life. Yet complaining is human nature.
Even people who frequently share special moments with loved ones, follow their passions in life, write about gratitude in a journal, or engage in other positive activities may still find themselves complaining more than they need to—and more than is healthy.
Most people do need to express frustrations from time to time. People need to talk to loved ones about feelings, both positive and negative. They need to seek the opinions of those they trust when facing difficult choices or situations.
These actions can be positive, but it can also often involve sharing stories about problems. Sometimes that slips into excessive complaining or gossip—and that can be a slippery slope. A healthier form of complaining includes brainstorming solutions,
Do You Complain Too Much?
How do you know if you are complaining too much? It can be helpful to pay attention to your daily communication—whether in person, by text message, or another method. Notice how much of the content of your conversations is focused on complaints or negativity.
It’s normal to notice that some of your daily communication involves dwelling on grievances or complaints. But if you notice a pattern that many of your words are focused on negativity, it may be a sign that you need to find a way to address your complaining.
Frequent complaining might also reduce the number of positive influences in your life. The people who do want to spend time with you tend to reinforce your negativity through co-rumination, or re-hashing past events over and over again.
How to Stop Complaining—A Few Simple Tips
1. TALK ABOUT EMOTIONS INSTEAD OF FRUSTRATIONS
Instead of complaining, you can take a more constructive approach and talk about your real feelings. Complaints are signals that something is wrong, but they’re debilitating because there’s nothing to grab on to and perhaps fix. Feelings, on the other hand, help you understand why you’re feeling this way. They bring you closer to other people and opening up can help you overcome adversities.
2. VENT ELSEWHERE
3. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
4. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
Complaining about something that’s bothering you directly or indirectly is a form of passive, reactive behavior that leads nowhere. If you’d like to see a change, take full ownership of what’s happening in your life. Take a more proactive, responsible role, and either resolve the situation or accept it, let it go, and move on.
5. CATCH YOURSELF DOING IT