I was taking an online course from a much-loved author, Doreen Virtue. She suggested to try to go 24 hours without complaining. I thought it sounded like an interesting and exciting experiment; very doable, easy even. I started that very moment. But, why? What exactly is the point of not complaining?
Complaining is a form of negativity. Complaints focus on problems rather than solutions; on what we don’t want rather than what we appreciate. When we complain, the Universe gives us more to complain about.
Our complaints may well be 100% true. We’re not saying that what we are complaining about is not valid. But because of our negative focus, we are literally creating more of what we do not want. If we want love, health, and fun, complaining is simply not the route to the good stuff, regardless of whether the complaint is true or not.
To my surprise, within the hour I had a thought about something I did not want. I told myself that that was not a complaint; I was just noticing something unwanted. But really I knew it was just a tiny step away from an outright complaint. As time progressed and I had more “non-complaints”, I found myself justifying how these were not complaints, but simply facts. For instance, my legs are sore (from excessive yard work) is just a statement of fact. But, of course, behind that “fact” was a miserable feeling of pain. In other words, a complaint!
That got me to thinking what exactly is a complaint? According to dictionary.com, it is, “To express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault; to tell of one’s pains, ailments, etc.”
Oh boy. I had definitely been complaining. I would add to that definition that complaining is focusing on the negative, feeling victimized and powerless to change unwanted circumstances. Important to note is that complaining doesn’t necessarily have to be expressed to someone. It can be just our own internal thoughts. We may not complain aloud, and so our ego may trick us into believing we are not complaining.
After accepting that I was indeed complaining, but still trying to defend these “non-complaint” statements to my husband and internally to myself, I asked why do I want to allow these statements? What is to gain from complaining?
Personally, I felt as if I couldn’t function without them. I needed them. Complaining, in the form of venting, can actually be a sort of release of frustration or anger. But there is an extremely fine line which, nine and a half times out of ten, gets crossed. It can go from being (somewhat) helpful to toxic in the blink of an eye.
The next day I clearly saw how I used complaining as a sort of common ground or small talk with acquaintances. She was complaining, so I complained back. It gave me a feeling of connection to another. It gave me a sense of security by having something to say to somebody with whom I didn’t have much in common. At work, I perceived that it was a way to waste time or procrastinate.
I also noticed the more I complained, the more I drew to myself more complainers! Complainers feed off of each other. If we find ourselves in the company of complainers – or one person who complains a lot –that serves as a good wake-up call to our own state of complaining.
I also used complaining as a way to justify my rightness by pointing out what’s wrong with others or the government or the world….whomever, so long as “they” were wrong and I was right.
Another so-called benefit from complaining is to get sympathy from others. Have you noticed it’s often the case when you offer a solution to someone who is complaining, they ignore it. (Or maybe you are the one ignoring a suggested solution.) Usually complainers are not looking for a solution. When we do not nurture ourselves we resort to looking for love and caring from external sources. Complaining can be a way to get that from others.
Clearly the ego reaps different types of benefits from complaining. But when scrutinized, these were not the type of benefits I wanted anymore.
How to stop complaining?
- When we do complain (aloud or internally), don’t beat ourselves up. We are human so we are not going to be 100% complaint-free. The goal of this exercise is to become more aware of how much we actually complain. Not to point out how bad we are, but to rise above it.
- Focus on things that make us feel good rather than on things that make us want to complain. For example, if we know a new law gets us riled up, don’t keep reading about it! If we know someone that irritates us, don’t ask them to lunch!
- Counter complaints with the positive side. For instance, with my sore legs complaint, I could counter with: My legs are sore, but I really did a nice job on the yard.
- Ask ourselves, what benefit are we getting from this particular complaint? Then ask if it is worth all the negative sludge that comes with the benefit? For example, was it worth it for me to feel secure and connected to that acquaintance of mine? No, because I don’t want a connection based on negativity and I don’t need to talk just for the sake of talking. If the benefit is sympathy, then we know we need to put more focus on nurturing ourselves.
- Ask ourselves, is there something we can change regarding the subject of this complaint? If yes, then do it. If not, then say a prayer or affirmation and move on.
- If we are complaining to vent, find another way to let off steam. Exercise, scream in our car or home alone (this one is sure to make us laugh too!), write it down and then tear or burn it, take deep breaths and ask God/Divine Beings to help us let it go.
There’s always going to be things we don’t like and to complain about. Even if we get our personal lives to the point of being 99.99% to our satisfaction, there will inevitably be something in the world at large with which we could complain about. The point isn’t to make the outer world and circumstances perfect. But rather, to be aware that we have the capability to choose our personal thoughts, words, and actions which will make all the difference in terms of our happiness. When we are happy, those around us will be happier, or at least, they will have a better chance to be happier. For sure, nobody will be happier around a complainer, including ourselves.