The Complaining Game

complainingMany years ago a family member, who I no longer interact with regularly, gave me a bit of advice that stuck. Her advice was to “never complain and never explain.” Pretty straight forward but at the time I did not truly realize the power inherent in those words.

The past year has been a veritable field day for those who have yet to fully immerse themselves in this philosophy. A pandemic, economic downturn, and election have created innumerable opportunities for both explanation and complaining. I too have forgotten the advice, specifically, the “never complain” portion.

Personally, my own mental health has been challenged by the cornucopia of matters in which I have zero control. Navigating the current world is challenging as is keeping a positive mindset and optimism amid the chaos, fear, and uncertainty. In the absence of control, complaining seems like a natural alternative.

Whether at home, work, school, or out in the world, grievances are rampant. Spending energy considering the alternative approach to complaining and explaining has many stumped and frustrated. No matter the environment, it is hard to swing a cat and not find people who are consumed with the need to complain.

Restaurants, places of business, and recreational facilities face the brunt of it. Social media is the perfect platform to rail on anyone or anything that does not meet the approval of individuals. Community Facebook groups, individuals, and google reviews sadly prove my point if you are not convinced that my perception is correct.

So, what is the solution? Given the stress and unsettled times we are all experiencing I am not sure, but I have a few suggestions. Negativity is one outlet however I believe there are simple ways that we can all do a better job of resisting negativity and as a result, complaining.

The first is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of thinking about your thoughts and subsequent speech. With great risk of sounding like a simpleton, I suggest thinking before speaking, or running to our phones or computers to verbally vomit our reactions to every situation we find ourselves in.

Granted, this is a simple idea, but one that is much more difficult to apply in the moments when we might find ourselves facing some “injustice” or “inconvenience”. For example, yes, we are all tired of wearing masks wherever we go and being required to comply with a highly politicized act of protecting ourselves, and others, from a virus. For however long this is the case, we can choose to focus on the irritation or the fact that it is a necessity.

Complaining and kicking the cat is not going to make the reality go away any sooner. Mindfulness is the steppingstone that shifts our focus away from the discomfort and allows us to choose to focus on the present moment and search for alternative solutions which are less energy sucking and draining.

Gratitude is next. Finding things to be thankful for seems like an impossible task when many are struggling financially, mentally, and emotionally. Our collective energy is being pushed to the limits in every area but even in the struggle, the small things matter.

Complaining is the thief of gratitude but it does not have to be the default reaction to every interaction or circumstance. The critical mind is an enemy to peace and gratitude. Do you have running water? Indoor plumbing? Family, friends, and loved ones? A favorite song? Food? If so, start with these. The simple things in life often go unnoticed when the noise of complaining has taken over the room.

This morning while driving to the park to exercise every radio station I scanned was engaged in post Superbowl critiques. Most of which were negative and filled with complaints and negativity. The half time show, the score, and the commercial offerings were front and center. Expectations were high and for what I gather most walked away disappointed. Complainarama.

While irritating, it inspired me and forced me to think about the ways my frustration with people in general has grown over the past few months. The unmet expectations of the masses are a glaring example of what happens when we lose our ability to just enjoy something for what it is.

My wife and I spent the day cooking, relaxing, and enjoying our family. We also spent the day complaining about how much people complain about everything. Yep. This blog post is as much for me as it is anyone who has chosen to read this far. Stepping back and realizing our own failing in this area has been humbling and motivating.

This week, please consider practicing gratitude when a complaint is at the tip of your tongue or at your fingertips. The complainers are just humans who have forgotten that there are other ways to channel frustration and discontent. Was your door dash order not as expected? Did your team not win? Did the cashier at the store take too long to complete your order? If so, instead of complaining practice patience and understanding.

The world and your fellow humans will thank you for your efforts in ways large and small. If you are tired of division and discord every where you turn, make the choice not to add to the problem. Another option, instead of complaining, is kindness. This applies to our internal monologue as much as it does to our words and actions. If necessary, keep a roll of duct tape handy in case your mouth outdraws your brain in the duel.

If the struggle to mitigate negativity, not feel contempt towards one another, or becoming disgusted with people in general is overwhelming, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Lean on faith or the mental health system to make the load lighter. Despite our tendency to complain we are capable of great things when we acknowledge our trouble areas and take steps to improve our mindsets.

While we might not all share the same beliefs about politics, sports teams, pandemic best practices, or personal choice, we share space during very stressful circumstances. We owe it to one another to try to do better and stop escalating the negativity which fuels the complaint engine.

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