The Art of Complaining: Could We Use a Break?
Nobody likes a constant complainer. Hearing someone whine about the same things over and over can get really old, really fast. But we all complain on some level, and it seems to be to our benefit. It’s good for your mental health to let things vent out when needed. If you squelch all complaints, it doesn’t mean the source of the discomfort is gone, according to a recent New York Times article. It just means you’re sitting on whatever it is that’s bothering you.
I don’t know how many times I’ve started talking about something that’s been bugging me, only to pause halfway through and say to my friend, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m just venting over here.” They always respond with some variation of, “No, it’s totally fine! Sometimes we just need to vent,” and then I continue with whatever it is that’s irking me. I always feel the need to apologize for whatever I’m complaining about, and I always seek the absolution of whoever it is I’m whining to. I sometimes wonder if that’s because women are conditioned to be nice, and it’s not nice to complain. Or perhaps I just want to be reassured that whoever I’m talking to isn’t judging me for complaining about the bad customer service I had that morning at the DMV. Often when I’m upset about something, I’ll try and make my complaint about it into a joke of some sort, to try and be less annoying to those around me.
Yesterday I sent my best friend a text saying, “Warning. I am about to enter the Cone of Whining,” followed by a text paragraphs long in which I detailed every single thing that was annoying me at that moment. Some of my complaints were mundane (I can’t get my printer to work!) and a few were more serious (why do I always have this recurring family problem?). She responded “Cone of Whining? Hah!” Case in point.
There’s a movement to stop complaining called AComplaintFreeWorld.org. The goal is to go without complaining for twenty-one days straight. I know for a fact I could never make it through that challenge. What’s more, I wouldn’t want to. When I talk through something that’s annoying with a friend, I almost always feel better about it. Sometimes just laying my frustrations on the table allows me to recognize that they are trivial concerns, and I don’t need to be worrying about them. It also helps me to feel heard by someone; sometimes I just need a friend to listen and then I feel better simply because my hurts have been recognized by someone else.
I’ve also found that complaining can often lead to character growth, especially if you’re venting to the right kind of friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been ranting about something a family member has said or done, only to have my friend remind me that whoever it is I’m upset with has the best of intentions, and has my best interest at heart. It’s a necessary reminder for me, and forces me to see past my petty complaints and recognize that in the greater scheme of things, I should be thankful for the meddling of my family because it just means they care. Can you be reminded of the importance of family without complaining first? Sure. But it just so happens that I’ve found good at the end of a complaining experience more often than not.
I think ultimately, it’s wise to temper your complaints. Don’t go whining about your budget to a friend who just lost their job. It’s smart to bite back complaints in certain circumstances, and it’s important to not be that person who just won’t shut up about the thing their boyfriend did that one time that was so dumb. But complaining can help us gain a lighter mood, connect with friends, and remind us to count our blessings. There’s a reason the saying “Everything in moderation” is so popular–because it’s really true. As long as it’s in moderation, complaining is good practice.
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