Mo buys two tickets to the symphony for herself and her husband, Joe. Joe sits miserably throughout the concert, ruining the experience for Mo. Mo complains about Joe’s behaviour for the next 6 months.
Why Do We Complain?
- Complaining about something gives immediate release from feelings of frustration, helplessness and fear that we encounter when things don’t go our way, or more precisely, when things don’t go the way we think they should.
- We complain because there are many things that we seemingly have no control over.
- We complain because it is socially acceptable; using complaining as a bridge for relating to others and having them relate to you.
What About Things We Can’t Control?
Like, politics, the weather and commitments. Of course, there are many avenues available to become involved in community, national and global affairs, but if you are not lit up wanting to become an activist, then a first step can be to choose where you place your attention and energy. If your blood pressure is going up while watching the news, you can choose to turn it off and focus on something you can do in your immediate environment. Buy some cool rubber boots for those rain days; a cozy blanket or sweater for snow days; think of a reason to enjoy the current weather conditions. I do my best running in the rain. There are many creative ways to make your commitments feel like a choice. (see Bag It, Barter It, Better It)
Choosing is Always More Satisfying/Empowering Than Complaining
There are many options for Mo and Joe. Mo could have asked if Joe wanted to go with her before she bought the tickets. In this case, Mo would have to change her assumed expectation of her husband and ‘allow’ that he has a choice. In this she also has a choice. Her enjoyment of the concert does not have to hinge upon Joe enjoying it too. She can choose to go by herself, ask a friend or enjoy herself even though Joe is miserable.
Joe too has many choices. Joe could have said he didn’t want to go. Here his choice is to accept his wife being upset with him, but he’s off the hook for attending the concert. Or he can choose to go and show up fully, be present, participate fully not acting passively-aggressively while seeming to go along.
Use Complaining as a Clue
When you notice yourself complaining about your job, your boss, your spouse, etc. get curious. What exactly are you frustrated/unhappy about. What is making you feel helpless? Where can you take some of your power back? What complaints can become choices? Also notice when someone is complaining to you. Ask them these questions.
Change it or Choose It
The antidote to complaining is choosing. If you don’t want to do anything to change things, then accept that you’ve chosen the circumstance and stop complaining. If you do choose the current situation, show up. Be present. Find ways to enjoy yourself.