Epictetus said “God has given us the faculties by which we are able to bear what comes to pass without being crushed or depressed thereby. Why then do we sit and moan and groan, blind to the giver, making no acknowledgment to Him, but giving ourselves to complaints?” Why indeed? Because life is so seldom what we expected, or what we think we want.
I’m currently faced with the realities of a health malady that, at best, will take months or even years to overcome. It has given me an excellent opportunity to find reasons NOT to complain. Complaining is such a futile activity! I admit I haven’t managed to quit complaining “cold turkey.” But I’m making progress, and offer the following reasons to stop complaining that I find irresistible. I hope you will find them irresistible too.
• When I quit complaining I’m more likely to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t do. In this regard, I learn good lessons from grandchildren: A baby doesn’t fret and cry (complain) because it cannot walk. Until walking is possible, babies have a really good time wiggling, then turning over, then crawling. They are content doing what they CAN do. A child learning to read is thrilled to pick out words, and recognize sounds. He doesn’t complain that he cannot make sense of Shakespeare. Similarly, I enjoy my present life a whole lot more when I quit complaining about what I can’t do and focus on gratitude for what I can. When I switch from complaining to gratitude, I find the key to happiness.
• When I refuse to complain about the problem, I begin to attract solutions. Why should I want to stay mucked in the problem? It’s never improved my life one iota when I have. Any time I refuse to waste time complaining, I’m training my brain to actually find solutions and new ideas instead. As author and poet Maya Angelou says, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
• Breaking the complaining habit proves I’m in control and can change—no matter my age. I can teach an old dog new tricks when the old dog is me! Research shows that it takes only 21 days to form a new habit. When it comes to a determination to stop complaining, it’s not easy; trial and error is to be expected. However, after only 7 days of awareness and sincere effort, most people tolerate negativity less. After 2 weeks of sticking to it, slipups tend to be followed with instant self-correction! Here’s how that works in real life. I might say, “What a dreary overcast, gray day. I hate this kind of weather.” Then I catch myself and say, “Man, I’m glad I live in Utah and not in Oregon. I can be absolutely sure of seeing the sun before long.”
• When I quit complaining about the losses in my life I begin to get the perspective of what I gain through those losses. Lord Byron said, “Sorrows are our best educators. A [person] can see further through a tear than a telescope.” I’ve learned that loss sensitizes me to joy and helps me experience a deeper wonder at just being alive.
• When I’m not wasting energy complaining, I simply attract new energy. I start attracting more positive people (and may even help negative ones want to be more positive). Negative people walk away or wind down quickly when I refuse to play the “ain’t it awful” game with them. But positive, curious people stick around because they notice I’m determined to be positive too. The more I enjoy those who are fun to be around the more I become fun to be around. And the more fun I am to be around the more I lift the dreariness around me and help others adopt a lighter mood. When I quit complaining, I escalate good feelings, instead of escalating bad feelings. Complaining is contagious, and anger is contagious, but so is laughter. Have you ever been around a child who laughs for no reason and soon has everyone laughing? I love it when I can be the one to ACT, not REACT, and start a happy chain of events.
• The less I complain, the more I shrink my ego—and that greatly improves my life. Complaining is like weight-training for the ego; it makes the ego stronger because it makes someone else (or even the government or society or life in general) wrong and me right. When I lay off the complaining/criticizing/gossiping, my spirit takes charge, not my ego! That makes me, and everyone around me, happier.
• When I refuse to complain I’m much more likely to start good conversation, and to have deeper conversations. Imaginary scenario: Marge calls on the phone and starts complaining and maybe I say, “You know what, Marge, I can think of a dozen complaints to add to that, but I just made a commitment to myself to go 21 days without complaining. Will you help me keep that commitment?” Marge says, “Wow! What a great idea!” Poof! The energy of the conversation shifts and I get to tell Marge about the great experience I’m having. Marge might say, “I’ve noticed how easy it is to complain, but what made you decide to do this?” and I might say, “I want to be congruent, and I don’t feel that way when I’m being negative.” I share a deeper connection with others when I’m authentic.
• Whenever I succeed at being complaint-free, I banish lazy thinking. Think about it. I can’t get much lazier than when I’m complaining and gossiping. It’s the same well-worn neural pathway the unremarkable majority trudges down day after day—the path of least resistance. When I’m complaint-free, I take a different route, and am alert to new ways of seeing things. When I quit complaining about what is, and what is impossible, I concentrate instead on positives that are possible. In the book One Day at a Time, we read, “To adapt ourselves with a quiet mind to what is possible and attainable, therein lies happiness.” (p. 358)
• When I avoid complaining I create happiness for myself and for others. I get to soar on the updraft of positive energy. It’s challenging at first, yes. But every day I succeed even a little I can honestly say, I’m SO much happier, because complaining is just a habit that does nothing but drag me down. When my attention is forced to find new places to land, my subconscious becomes a “happiness-seeking missile.”
Now admit it, aren’t those reasons irresistible? Join me in a 21-day effort to break the complaining habit. Nothing could be more likely to increase your happiness quotient!