“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
They’ve raised the price again! What do they think, that we’re made of money?
She’s always smiling, she must not have any real problems. Must be nice.
I don’t know why they don’t ever ask my opinion. I keep telling them I could help.
Everywhere we turn, someone is complaining, and often the someone is us. Shortly after Dr. Randy Pausch agreed to give a ‘last lecture’ at Carnegie Mellon, he discovered it would truly be his last lecture. With pancreatic cancer cutting his life short, this 47 year-old professor imparted words of wisdom and inspiration, instead of espousing the unfairness of the sudden shortness of his life. “If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out…” he shared.
As I researched the negative impact of complaining, I discovered something surprising: complaining has been shown to add a few years to your life (University of Jena, Germany). What are they thinking messing up my premise of “complain less for a better life”?
The research isn’t actually messing anything up because it shows that releasing emotion is healthy. “Hot-tempered Italians and Spanish live longer than stiff-upper lip English,” they said. There is a difference between releasing some steam and whining, though. Take note of this important lesson and don’t keep those feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration stuffed inside of you, even if your feelings make someone else uncomfortable. Venting is healthy and necessary. Just choose carefully your timing for letting it out.
Our kind of complaining is sometimes called whining, not the healthier venting. Being a complainer is definitely not healthy and not necessary.
Being a complainer will drive people away from you.
Being a complainer will leave you with unsolved problems.
Being a complainer will create health problems for you, as your mental negativity impacts your emotional and physical health.
Want a better life? Stop complaining. Want to find success? Stop complaining. Why did Pausch say to use your energy and apply it to solving the problem? Because being intentional about a solution is almost always more effective than taking a chance that your whining will get your problems solved. (I do recognize ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’ is sometimes effective.)
Some of our best inventions, well really every invention, have solved a problem. “Thomas, we’re going to burn the house down with these oil lamps! Can’t you figure out a better way to have light?” So, maybe that isn’t exactly how Thomas Edison came up with the lightbulb, but you get the point. A problem is an opportunity for whining or for finding a solution. Be the problem solver, not the whiner.
Think you aren’t a complainer? I’ll offer you a challenge, an experiment. Get a notepad or an index card and a pen to keep with you for a full day. Every time you complain, make a mark on the paper. If you have any marks on that paper at the end of the day, you’ll need to get a fresh sheet to continue the experiment the next day. How long do you need to continue this? The day you find you have no marks on the paper at the end of the day is the day you can stop carrying the pen and card. Every time you complain without any purpose other than to whine is an opportunity to rethink your response to something. Maybe it isn’t a problem that can be solved but an attitude that can be changed.
- Notice how often you are complaining.
- Check to see if your complaints are simply a habit of whining taking over your thinking.
- Recognize how seldom the complaining helps your situation.
- Take a complaint and find a solution for the problem.
- Watch your mood and your life change. You might even find that people enjoy being around you more.
Is the line at the checkout longer than you’d like it to be? It would seem that the business has a good problem of lots of customers. Maybe you could suggest they have more employees to check folks out instead of just complaining to your friends when you leave, or you could just smile and wait patiently.
Is traffic heavier than it used to be and making you late for work? Complaining that you’ll be late won’t get you there any sooner, but leaving earlier might (the solution). If it’s a real problem, maybe you can solve the problem by moving closer to where you work. Get the idea?
Your problems and my problems aren’t necessarily anyone else’s concerns, but our complaining could drive people away from us, and that probably isn’t our goal.
We all know the complaining friends we try to avoid. Are you actually someone else’s complaining friend? If you want to have more friends, if you want to be more pleasant, and if you want to enjoy your own life more, take a break from complaining.
Try the experiment with your kids, with your spouse, with your co-workers, with your students, with your friends. Any time we can pay attention to and change our thinking and words, we make life better for ourselves and for those around us. Changing negative complaining to positive solution-seeking gives you power, and isn’t that really what you’re wanting when you complain?
Good luck on changing your life for the better. As Maya Angelou so perfectly put it, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”