You know what I hate? Complaining. It’s that life-is-awful dialogue that some folks perennially wallow in. Every conversation revolves around negative topics like a rotten boss, corrupt politicians, bad county roads, or the latest pain du jour. No discussion is immune from the griping. All sentences can be adroitly diverted into a downward spiral.
Chronic complainers feel justified in their behavior. They’re quick to point out confirming data they’ve heard on talk radio or share the latest difficulty at home. They believe it’s their duty to keep us posted on all the unhappiness they’ve encountered.
Yet research shows little correlation between happiness and actual events. Studies found that, after a period of time, survivors of tragedies and traumas report being nearly as happy as they were before the accident. Lottery winners, on the other hand, fail to see any long-lasting increase in their moods.
What these crabs fail to realize is that their negativity contaminates everyone’s airspace. Like secondhand smoke, it seeps into our bodies whether we want it there or not. Yes, we can act as our own filters and expunge negativity when we find it. Still, it requires vigilance and psychic effort we’d rather expend in other areas.
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Complaining saps us in other ways, too. Those who don’t join in the grump fest may feel responsible for easing the discontent. These pleasers don their rose-colored glasses and do their best to cheer things up. But no matter how many good vibes they emit the sourpuss is seldom swayed. The kvetching continues unabated while the pleasers take on a problem they can’t do anything about.
Complaining is different than venting. Venting is the expression of frustration related to a single, identified stressor. Venting about a teenage daughter’s recent piercing or the antics of a difficult ex is generally a one-time, short-term occurrence. Once it’s over the venter feels better. Listeners don’t need to fix things. An amiable ambiance resumes.
Complaining, on the other hand, is habitual. It’s the way people relate to their world. It’s their glass-is-half-empty approach that they apply toward everything they meet.
Of course, some folks do have challenging circumstances. It’s understandable that they’re in an ornery mood. It’s easy to cut them slack. Even so, whining never made things any better and may have contributed to the emotional angst.
OK. Now I’ll stop complaining.
Winning over whining
Want to stop complaining? Start with these ideas:
Don’t rationalize your behavior. You’re either complaining or you’re not. There’s no gray area in between. There’s also no good reason to be spewing the blues unless you want to make yourselves and others unhappy. Face up to what you’re doing to be able to make a change.
Pay attention to your words. Start listening carefully to what you say. Notice what topics you bring up most often. Determine if they’re mostly downers.
Note your mood when you complain. Tune in to how you feel when the griping starts. Are you happy and content? Or is your overall attitude agitated and tense? Reserve making any judgments for now. Simply observe your emotional state.
Zero in on physical cues. Are your hands clenched? Is your stomach tied in knots? Has your breathing become rapid and intense? These are signs that you’re upset, signs you may have previously missed.
Eliminate phrases from your vocabulary. Take out such loaded clauses as “I hate” or “Those jerks” Making subtle changes in your speech can have a profound effect on the way you feel.
Catch yourself in the act. Analyze your new speech. Notice when you’re more positive. Recognize when you start to slip up. Don’t worry. It’s expected. Simply replace complaining phrases with more upbeat ones. Repeat the pattern as often as needed.
Enlist others’ help. Ask friends and family members to point out when you’ve gone grumpy. They’ll be thrilled to serve as your assistants. And their kind and gentle feedback will be an invaluable tool for you.
Be patient. You’ve had a long time in your previous behavior. Now you’re learning something new. Don’t beat yourself up or feel you’re a failure. Keep at it. Everyone will be glad you did.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com