That car ahead of you is crawling at a snail’s pace. Your coworker constantly interrupts you. Your (fill in the blank: husband, wife, kids) can’t wash the dishes the right way.
Americans find an alarming number of things to complain about.
“I’ve heard the rate of complaints in American conversations ranges from 70 to 84 percent,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “Yet none of us likes to hang out with a complainer.”
Psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, agrees: “Complaints can be like viruses; it’s important to stay away from complainers.”
Born that way
It’s not necessarily easy. We’re born with brains that have a negative bias. “We tend to focus on things that are not right, rather than attending to all of the rightness around us,” says Dr. Bea.
Let that tendency turn into a habit, and the world quickly becomes an unpleasant or dangerous place. Not a fun way to live!
But here are seven strategies you can try when you hear yourself complaining:
- Step back. Look at the big picture. Will this really matter to you in five minutes, five months or five years?
- Look within. Take your complaint seriously. “What is the real issue — does the small thing irritating you represent a theme or larger issue in your life that should be addressed?” asks Dr. Albers. Take five minutes to journal out your complaint. You may find out why it’s pushing your buttons.
- Make a game of it. Wear a bracelet or rubber band on one wrist. Each time you hear yourself complain, switch it to the opposite wrist. “The goal is to go 30 days with your rubber band or bracelet on the same wrist,” says Dr. Bea.
- Choose the right channel. Consider the best way to privately share your issue: in person, in an email, during a phone call. “Never complain on Facebook!” says Dr. Albers.
- Air valid concerns. Your complaint may address a genuine need that can lead to a solution. “The key is to share your complaint in a kind way that is seen as helpful and not critical,” says Dr. Albers.
- Find the positives. When you have a complaint, start and end with a positive. Otherwise, people will shut down and completely miss your message. “You might say, ‘I love when you get groceries. Next time, please let me know before you leave, and I’ll send you my list. It’s so helpful when we work together,’” suggests Dr. Albers. (Avoid the word “but” — it wipes away the positive.)
- Practice gratitude. Remind yourself each day about one thing you’re grateful for, no matter how small. “If negativity has become a habit, keeping a nightly gratitude journal can start to turn the tide,” says Dr. Bea. “It forces us to think about what we’re grateful for in our lives.” Smartphone gratitude apps can help.
What a change in perspective can do
It takes time to learn patience on the road.
It takes practice to learn tolerance of others’ annoying habits. (Who among us doesn’t have them?)
It takes persistence to learn to let go of little things, like having the dishes done just so.
But “with some effort, you can learn to pay attention to what is right, helpful and uplifting around you,” says Dr. Bea.
You’ll discover that it adds happiness not just to your day — but to your entire life.
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