A Guide to Not Complaining

I would like to start by remarking on an observation I have made. Previously when people have asked me the generic opening line “Hi, how are you?”, I made it my goal to give them an honest and unique answer rather than the generic “I’m good thanks”. I would pick some part of how I was feeling and comment on it: “A bit tired”, I would say, or “I’ve been better”, or “Not bad considering I’m at work on a Sunday”. But I’ve recently discovered that these lines, innocent and honest as they may be, are layered with a subtle negativity. I have found that when you talk about things that are going wrong, the people you are talking with will respond in one of two ways: They might start to withdraw from you and avoid getting into a discussion of an unpleasant topic by brushing you off with something like a “Oh, right. That’s too bad”. Alternatively, they might start to feed into your negativity with a well-meaning response such as “Oh, I’m so sorry. What sort of sickness do you have?” While this might initially seem like kindness, it is feeding into the cycle of I believe I feel bad – this person believes I feel bad – I continue to feel bad. When you see that person again, they are likely to open with “Are you feeling any better today?” And you might think to yourself, “I don’t know, am I? Maybe I am still a little under the weather.”


That’s not to say that sickness isn’t real, and that you shouldn’t care about people who are unwell. But if every time you talk to someone you bring up how tired you are, how many challenges are in your life, how unpleasant your day has been, they’re going to always see you (consciously or otherwise) as tired and hurt and to be frank, a little whiny. And they’ll either avoid spending energy talking with you, or feed into your cycle of thought that encourages you to feel so negative. Complaining is a subtle thing, and I daresay most of us don’t realise we’re doing it. But it’s so harmful to us and our relationships because it’s so insidious.


The bottom line is that people who complain feel that they deserve something better than what they have. They believe that their circumstances (whatever they may be) are unjust, and that they are worthy of special treatment, that they are privileged somehow and that hardship should not happen to them. (Note: I use the word “should” deliberately to point out the flaw in this kind of thinking.) There is a tremendous host of reasons why this kind of thinking has become prevalent in our societies, but ultimately it is a deluded way of living your life. To put it another way, would it be unfair for your neighbour to get hit by a car today? Do you think it would be more unfair if you got hit by the car instead? Most people would say they deserve it less than their neighbour, and please God don’t let it be me. But when you think about it, it’s just as likely to happen to someone else as to you, so what makes you feel like you don’t deserve to get hit?


Forgive my pessimism, but it was this kind of thinking that shocked me into the realisation that I’m not more special than you are. That’s not to say you’re not special – please remember that you are a miracle of creation [link to you are not your body], energy and matter synthesised into an autonomous, sentient being with free will and movement. You are an incredibly improbable creature capable of awesome things. But at the end of the day, you are still just matter and energy, and when the sun explodes and the cosmos reveal new secrets, you may come to realise how small and humble you are in the greater scheme of things.


The answer to this kind of privileged attitude is to not take anything for granted. To appreciate what you have [link to http://www.tuneinnotout.com/blog/simply-living/], rather than complain about what you don’t have. My friend Dan writes a far better article about this [link to http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/wanting-more.html] than I, and I strongly encourage you to read it. At the end of the day, we are so blessed by the bounty of miracles that are unfolding all around us, and yet so many of us resolutely ignore them so that we can get sucked into our own self-pity.


Indulge me once again in another experiment. For one hour, or one day, or one week, make a conscientious effort not to outwardly express anything negative. When someone asks how you are, tell them how great you feel, even if you don’t. When you feel the aches in your body and the lethargy in your mind, draw your shoulders back and smile from your heart, even if you don’t believe it. I promise you that, if you do this for long enough, you will change the way people see you. And more importantly, you will change the way you see yourself.


Leave a comment and let me know how you’re going!


All my love,