I come from a long line of complainers. Complaining is a pastime that is highly cultivated by the matriarchs of my clan. Their debut is launched with the skill of a professional impromptu master. So I have grown used to hearing a constant litany of what is wrong mostly with men, the house, kids and the world. I remember telling my mother that I would never complain about my husband. She laughed at me. Well, after five years of marriage, I will admit I didn’t achieve never, but I am confident my cycle of complaints is much lower than what considered normal in my family. But I have complained along with her, mostly to show some solidarity with her plight. “Nobody helps with dishes, there is never enough time in the day, kids make a mess, husbands don’t pay attention and everyone is disrespectful.” Whew that is a lot.
The problem is that prolonged complaining brings out the worst in me. I get annoyed, I can’t barely stand hearing my self bitch about life. If I complain with co-workers for too long about a certain boss, project or process I will fly off the handle at their next transgression. Most of the time I probably look like a maniac, because I hadn’t expressed my concerns previously. My passion on a certain topic can seem out of place.
So when I read about “A Complaint Free World” an organization that distributes purple bracelets symbolizing a commitment to 21 days without a single kvetch, I was more than intrigued. Mainly because I felt the strong connection between constant complaining and unhappiness. Will Bowen, founder of the organization and author of a book by the same title says, “A lot of research has been done that shows complaining is damaging to health, relationships and careers. When people go 21 days without a complaint, they say they are happier.” Just to be clear, Mr. Bowen is not advocating that we all just keep quiet and hold in issues to ourselves. Part of his mission states, “We see a day when people focus on and speak about what they desire things to be rather than complaining about how things are”.
I have done my fair share of complaining. I just remembered a trip with some dear friends. We got trapped in a big blizzard and had to stay an extra day in the mountains, stuck in a tiny hotel room. I kept opening the curtains and continuously whined about the ever growing snow drifts, how much I hated snow, that it was too cold and we were never getting home. After a few hours of my relentless whining, I even cracked the resolve of one of my most patient friends who finally screamed in frustration “YES! We can see its snowing!!” I shut up pretty quickly. At least we both laugh about it now.
I have noticed when I try to eliminate complaining that I feel so much better. I have also noticed improved moods when I keep my distance from negative Nellies. But the worst thing about constant complaining is that it fogs my perception about a situation or person. I have felt the negative affects. After a long complaint session about a boss at work, the very next encounter is shaded with annoyance and anger. This only ramps up my next response and its usually a over-blown.
Thinking even further on the motivation for complaining, aside from camaraderie and bad habit, whining is really a passive aggressive way to ask for something or to fill a need. I still find it hard to be direct with people when I have an issue, so complaining behind their back offers comfort and can even feel like action. Over the years, I have tried to reduce this habit but I compensated by keeping silent on important matters. This is also not a very productive approach.
I got to thinking after reading this article about complaining, its not about the act of complaints but the execution. Whiny tones and long diatribes are more often less effective as time goes on. It makes sense that we would rely on complaining out loud to blow off steam instead of trying to broach an issue with family or co-workers. Its way easier than confrontation. Especially if you can find a few people to join in with complaining, now you’ve got support for your cause. But in the end nothing is ever solved. I think we all know, or have been that person who just wanted to complain and didn’t really want advice. I think this proves the case for complaints mostly being steeped in negative cycles and in opposition of inner peace and happiness.
Now that I am done complaining about complaining, I am going to order my purple bracelet. I think I can do it.
I take it that confrontation (in a non-aggressive productive way) doesn’t count as complaining, but venting-for-the-sake-of-venting does, right?
A personal opinion: I think that complaints often tell me more about the complainer than the complained-about. Of course, if I’m the complainer, it says I’m wise (or delusional) …
Well I think that confronting someone and simply stating what you need is more direct and is not passive aggressive. Instead of whining, “I am cooold.” It could be easier to just ask someone to close a window. It sounds strange, but I was raised to not ask for things directly. I have to force myself everyday. Yes complaining can be eye-opening!