We all have our ups and downs in life. But, have you ever known somebody who is constantly complaining? Sure you have—there is probably someone you could name right now. These are the ones that always have the harder job, bigger load to bear, more difficult family member, friend, or neighbor—fill in the blank, more physical ailments, less money, more trauma in their past, present, and anticipated future; the list goes on.
I get to thinking about everything I am grateful for this time of year—something I endeavor to do all year but especially like to focus on during the Thanksgiving season. Last year around this time, I wrote an article titled “The Attitude of Gratitude” for this column that included 7 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. This year, out of curiosity, I researched the opposite effects of gratitude. I found that the negative effects of ‘ingratitude’ or ‘complaining’ may be as good a motivator for mindfulness of our moods as the positive effects of gratitude—
- There are 3 basic types of complaining—chronic complaining, venting, and instrumental complaining. The chronic complainers ruminate incessantly on problems, real or imaginary, and see set-backs as insurmountable roadblocks to their lives. If you attempt to provide a solution, there is likely a complaint about that, too. Then there is ‘venting.’ Venters, as one author describes them, “have an agenda.” When individuals complain through venting, they want attention and validation. Like the chronic complainer, they do not want a solution; they are seeking sympathy for their emotions. (psychologytoday.com) The last type of complaint—the instrumental complainer—seeks to resolve a situation. To successfully complain, one focuses on the impact of the problem, why change is important, and how a preferred solution can be achieved cooperatively.
- Research suggests that chronic complaining can re-wire the brain in such a fashion that, like with other habits, the complainers fall into this ingrained thought pattern over time. It feels comfortable, so they stay there.
- Research also shows that constant complaining—as related to worry—triggers the fight or flight response in us and stress hormones called glucocorticoids (also called cortisol) flood our system. Increased cortisol contributes to high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
- Although more research is needed, studies show that the prolonged presence of glucocorticoids may shrink the hippocampus area of the brain. (news.standford.edu) Yikes. Who needs that?
- Not surprisingly, studies show that, after dissatisfaction is expressed, both the complainer and the one who was complained to, feel worse.
With all the possible negativity associated with griping, a positive person may think it is best to avoid it all together. But, if we do that, how can we effect change in the world? Psychologist, Robert Biswas-Diener offers these suggestions—
- Complain only rarely to avoid dampening your mood.
- Use affirmation or some other strategy instead of complaining.
- Complain only when you believe it will affect positive, real change.
- Limit your exposure to negativity by limiting your exposure to complainers.
This year, along with being mindfully grateful, I am also going to stay diligent to relegate my complaints to the instrumental variety. One commentary states that at least one complaint is voiced in every conversation we have! If you agree that is too many, I suggest you take up the instrumental-complaint-only challenge, too. And, if you are looking for good conversation with a lot of positive people, I invite you to join us for lunch at the Sedona Community Center. You will be served a delicious, three-course meal, along with good conversation among friends and neighbors from our own community. Suggested donation is $5 for people 60+ and $6 for all others. No tax, no tip. Menus are available at www.sccsedona.org or at 2615 Melody Lane. Please call in advance to reserve your meal at 928.282.2834.