The other day I realized how much I complain. It actually began to irk me. I don’t consider myself to be a whiny person (and I hope others don’t consider me to be one either). But still, I find myself complaining a lot. When people ask me how I’m doing, somewhere along the way I’ll probably mention something about my general lack of sleep or the weather being less than optimal or maybe the depressing news I saw on my Twitter feed that morning. Lately, my favorite thing to complain about has been how bad this allergy season is. I do talk about good and positive things too, but I also complain more than I should.
If you think about it, complaining is both annoying and exhausting, especially for the person who has to listen to you. And complaints are usually of two kinds – things you can change and things you can’t. To begin with the latter, if you can’t change something, complaining is futile. It might make you feel better to gripe but it might also make the situation actually worse than it objectively is. We all need to vent about the weather or how bad traffic is once in a while but maybe if we did it less or better yet changed our outlook on those things, we’d feel less of a need to complain about them altogether. Then there’s complaining about the things we can change, and this one is simple: If we can change them, why complain?
I’m known for my sarcastic humor; it’s sometimes mistaken for cynicism which is sad because I don’t consider myself remotely a cynical person. But maybe it’s worth considering what one is putting out into the world when communicating with other people. I find sarcasm to be a very useful tool for dealing with ignorance and perhaps it is my defense against it. But maybe in my arsenal of tools to deal with ignorance or other negative experiences, I can use sarcasm less as a defense and compassion more. In the same way, I can and should complain less as a defense to negative experiences, and substitute it with gratitude.
This past weekend, we did an exercise at church where we turned to the person we were sitting next to and told them something we were grateful for in the past week. It is an exercise I try to practice every day when I wake up and before I go to bed. I always find myself being thankful for more things than I can count. And with so many things to be grateful for, it would seem to me that complaining is a contradiction to the gratitude that I try to embody.
Complaining becomes a way of almost lessening that gratitude that I have.
I am no Pollyanna and I while I like to look at life hopefully, I am not blind to the pains of life. Bad things happen, annoying things happen, and complaining seems only natural. And maybe it is. But even so, I think that complaints endanger our experiences and the perspective we use to approach different experiences. And if we can live our lives more purposefully, more aware of what we say and do and put out in the world, and with more gratitude and grace, we’ll find that this need we have to complain is really a privilege, and one that should seldom be exercised.