I think I liked complaining for the sake of it until some months ago when I felt I don’t like myself when I complain. After struggling to avoid complaining for two weeks, I concluded that after all, complaining is not harmful as long as you are careful how you complain and as long as you do something about the subject of complaint. In addition, if you feel the need to complain about something you can’t change, then take a deep look inside yourself and see what you can change there.
Complaining, the statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something, is deeply rooted in every human being. Jane Wagner, American writer, director and producer, said “I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”
For a while, I had been noticing that I complain so many times a day about other people or daily minutiae that it started to bother me. I realised it didn’t help me in any way, not even to let some steam off. On the contrary, I felt even more negativity in me after expressing the reasons that brought dissatisfaction.
In mid-November, I happened to read a call on joining the initiative coming from author and radical career change coach Farnoosh Brock. She invited everyone who reads her blog to pledge to spend a complaint-free November.
I instantly loved the challenge, which seemed like the perfect orchestration of the Universe (through Farnoosh) to make me experience how my inner life be without complaining. Therefore, I enthusiastically joined the community of approximately 300 people who pledged to avoid complaining for the whole November! Except that I got an easier job than the rest by joining the common effort when half of the month had passed already.
The rules of the challenge were:
“1. No getting mad or frustrated or annoyed with YOURSELF.
2. No gripping at your pet, children, spouse, friends, parents, strangers.
3.No judging others even if they are incompetent or at fault.
4.No expressing displeasure about the weather.
5.No getting annoyed about the news.
6.No agreeing to another person’s complaint. That’s like being accessory to complaining.
7.No fussing about electronics or wifi or online apps misbehaving.
8.No feeling sorry for yourself or swearing even if you stub your toe or jam your finger.
9.No complaining about your work, the stupid co-workers or the horrid boss.
10.No criticizing anything, anywhere, anytime, in any capacity.”
After publicly declaring on Farnoosh’s blog that I accept the rules, the personal awareness about what I am feeling, thinking and saying increased. In the first two days, whenever I detected the urge to speak out any criticism, I swallowed the words and remained silent. The third day, I broke the commitment by pointing fingers about how bad drivers some people can be.
As days passed by, there was a small change in the well-rooted need to complain. I did manage to avoid speaking about what made me unhappy to friends and acquaintances. If someone complained, I would either be quiet or emphasise the positive aspect.
The one who got to hear about all the things that made me unhappy was my husband. But there was a tiny bit of change even in the discussions with him. The tiny bit of change was based on changing first how I look upon the life situations which normally make me angry and irritated.
For example, one grey afternoon, busy bus travellers kept passing by while I was trying to get off the bus too. My son was crying and fighting to escape from my grip. With the other hand, I was pulling the pram loaded with bags. Despite the noise coming from my direction and the space I was taking, fellow passengers seemed not to notice that I was there as well, waiting for someone to let me pass.
One man stepped on my foot while he forced his way out of the bus. Another man hit me with his big shoulder bag, which made me lose my balance. Without apologising, he jumped off. Needless to say that I was the last one to get off the bus. I was on the verge of anger, about to shout, “What’s wrong with you people?”.
Then, I remembered my pledge to avoid complaining. I took deep breaths thinking, “They were complete assholes but I can’t teach them manners by shouting at them”. I made it for home feeling grateful that we made it safely out of the bus crowded with ignorant people.
I started thinking about the two men who in my opinion behaved rudely. What kind of life they might have – are they single, are they happy with their job, are they mentally stable, how were their parents showing the love for them, etc?
When I met my husband and told him how my day had been, I preferred to skip the negatively charged story and simply state to him that “The bus was full and it was difficult to get off the bus because no one helped me.”
There were other life situations in the last week of November when I couldn’t help complaining. I couldn’t lift up to the promise I had made on Farnoosh’s blog. Yet, I did experience moments when I refrained from complaining about things I can’t change. And I also enjoyed the feeling of peace that followed.
Actually, I find this experiment so useful for personal happiness that I want to turn it into a habit of carefully scrutinising how I complain, about what and what actions I take after complaining.
Summing up, here is a list of positive changes that I started experiencing during two weeks of attempt to refrain from complaining:
- Awareness – I detected thoughts of complaint and the emotions behind those thoughts. With every thought of dissatisfaction, bitterness spread in my heart and got hungry for more things to complain about. Becoming aware of this vicious cycle, I managed to stop it in its early stage. Instead, I redirected my thoughts to something more positive that was happening around me.
- Expectations – complaints are based on expectations, such as expectations about how people should behave or how the day should progress. Therefore, I started paying more attention to my expectations. I wondered why I have such expectations. I was fascinated to feel that I had opened a door to a secret world inside myself where dreams, desires, and fears live. Inquiring into those feelings is an opportunity to self-discovery.
- Create space for creativity – instead of spending time on negative emotions raised by useless complaints, I focused on how to take care of the daily to-do list in a more efficient and pleasant manner. For example, while at playground with my toddler, one of the parents behaved unfriendly with my little man. After getting angry for a few seconds, I chose to think of other fun activities I could do with him at the playground.
- Just go ahead with the complaint – last but not least, I indulged myself in complaining when it’s about things that matter the most, such as aspects of the relationships with the dear ones. The trick is to let the complaint out of my system, and then come with solutions. As a matter of fact, researchers in psychology explain that the problem is not the act of complaining but how we can efficiently express our frustrations and anger. Irrespective if we complain about big or minor stuff, if we complain just for venting thoughts and not for actually finding a solution, we can be affected emotionally, physically and mentally.
Now, about you, what is it that you are complaining about? Do you feel that complaining helps you? If yes, can you please describe how does it help you?