Is Chronic Complaining Affecting Your Happiness?

These days, when you ask someone "How's it going?" you might expect to hear "Life is just so busy!" or be given a list of things that have already gone wrong since their alarm went off at 7 a.m. We often take the opportunity of being asked to complain about work, the unending list of errands, our stress levels, the latest plot twist in our favorite show, our knees and anything else that comes to mind in the moment. In fact, it might catch you off guard if you are met with an answer such as "I'm doing great and I'm very happy." The truth is that complaining is a more common way for individuals to interact rather than focusing on the positive—but why?

According to the book "A Complaint-Free World", the average person complains 15 to 30 times per day. Some complaining is normal, but how do you know if you're doing it too much and, just as importantly, how do you change the behavior?

Complaining can help release frustration and tension, so there is a time and place when it's appropriate. Learning to identify if your complaining is doing more harm than good will save you from burdening friends and family with your woes while helping you maintain better mental health.
  • Complaining increases negative feelings. Constant complaining requires you to focus on the bad things in life. Conversely, the more you focus on the positive, the more you notice it.
  • It keeps you stuck in the moment. Instead of focusing on the problem itself, focus on the steps needed to improve the situation and keep moving forward.
  • It makes you feel powerless. If you are unhappy about something, take back your power and think about what you can do to change it.

3 Steps to Help Break the Cycle

According to Julie Frischkorn, the director of behavioral health and mindfulness at Spark360, complaining is not necessarily a bad thing. She believes that if you can do it with mindful awareness, it may be of value. "We all have difficult feelings, and some of them are not very pretty," Frischkorn explains. "The solution is not that you stuff down your feelings or vow never to complain." Instead, she encourages people to think about how they approach the expression of their feelings with these three steps: 
  • Step 1: Do it with awareness. Try to pay attention when you are expressing displeasure about something. Be in the moment and be aware of what you are saying and for how long you are speaking. 
  • Step 2:  Know your audience. Think about the person who is receiving what you are sharing. Are they open to taking care of you in that moment? Can they relate to what you are saying? Recognize that the process is a two-way street. 
  • Step 3: Check in with yourself after you've shared. Was it helpful to vent? Do you feel better or worse? If you feel worse, maybe complaining was not the best expression of your emotions; perhaps you needed to take a walk around the block or write your feelings down in a journal or an email that you delete before sending. If it felt helpful, make sure to thank the person that shared in your venting and, next time, you can be there for them.
If you find that complaining is affecting your outlook on life or your relationships with others, perhaps it's time to find a different way of dealing with your feelings. Life will never be perfect and sometimes things won't go your way. By identifying whether your complaining is beneficial or detrimental to your overall mindset, you'll potentially be able to find more productive ways to get through life's ups and downs.