Do you have someone in your life who is always moaning and groaning about something?  It seems like we all have that one person. They never seem to take responsibility for anything, including their own happiness.  They blame others for their emotions and circumstances they’re in. Maybe this person you know is a friend or family member—or maybe it’s you.

Recently, I was talking to a client who has been married to her husband for some time now.  She told me that her husband continuously complains, and it seems like he’s always looking for something to whine about.  She told me that his childhood lacked emotional literacy. He was brought up in a family with a long line of pessimists. She finds it challenging at times to remain joyful as she looks to help him find the contentment in his life.

Think of a no-smoking sign.  The ones that have the cigarette with a red circle and a line down the middle x-ing it out.  I picture a no-whining sign just like this. I try to make my mind a “no-whining zone”.

Why Do People Complain?

There are many reasons as to why people complain. Clemson University professor Robin Kowalski, PhD, says, “We use complaints as icebreakers.  We start a conversation with a negative observation because we know that will get us a bigger response than saying something positive would.”

For me I find that very intriguing, since I’d prefer feeling good to feeling disgruntled. Being negative takes a toll on my liveliness and ability to function in the way I strive to.

When you look at social media, you find groups of people coming together with the common interest being complaining.  When we see others sharing our views, it gives us validation that we are correct in our thoughts and feelings. Have you ever heard the saying misery loves company?  Well it is, in fact, correct. Complaining about something is a way to vent and feel anger. It’s good to unload these thoughts and feelings instead of keeping them in. However, complaining can become habitual—or even addictive.

Your Thoughts Bring Forth Complaints

It’s important to monitor your thoughts throughout the day.  What do you think of when you wake up? Maybe you think of how grateful you are for another day.  Or maybe you think of what could possibly go wrong in your day. Each morning I set a goal to ‘have an extraordinary day and connect with amazing people.’ And each day, I set out to achieve that goal.

I, in no way, shape, or form, attempt to see myself as limited in any way.  Over the last few years, I’ve experienced a series of health challenges that slowed me down.  With that being sad, I attempt to resist it. I still work out at the gym, I ran a 5k, and as the fear that my breathing would slow me down, I worked to overcome that fear.  I tend to minimize my challenges, as I know that others have far worse obstacles standing in front of them.

My father used to tell me, “If that’s the worst thing that happens to you, you’ll be okay.” That statement gives me mixed signals, since it seems helpful, I internalized the idea that I had nothing to feel badly about… ever.

Chronic Complaining and Its Negative Effects

Chronic complaining is considered a threat to your health and is contagious.  Neuronal mirroring is a factor as well. We view one another as reflections of ourselves.  Even if we don’t recognize the connection between us. If we are surrounded by people who are “happy being miserable,” it can be similar to the effects of secondhand smoke.  Toxins enter our system even if we aren’t the ones physically inhaling the cigarette.

Complaints are often centered on our “don’t wants”:

  • “I don’t want to drink or do drugs, but it’s too hard to get clean.”
  • “I want to lose weight, but I don’t want to diet.”
  • “I want to quit smoking, but I’m under too much stress to give it up now.”
  • “I want to be married, but don’t want to change anything in my current lifestyle.”
  • “I want to graduate from college, but don’t really want to do the work involved.”
  • “I want my house to be in order, but I don’t want to clean up after myself.”

Look at the East Coast of the US during wintertime.  Temperatures drop and snow falls, and because of that, people understandably complain about delays and power outages.  However, those complaints don’t stop there, nor do they make us any warmer. Yet when summer comes along, people concentrate on the hot sun and heavy rain. The weather is the weather, no matter how much people complain.

Retrain Your Brain and Stop Complaining 

Take a stab at these tips to eliminate chronic complaining and retrain your brain:

  • Focus on controllable elements, such as attitude and actions.
  • Get rid of the negative thoughts that live in your mind.
  • Have a short pity party and throw a mini tantrum. However, when the “party” is over, leave.
  • Think of all the good things in your life and write them down. Think of your home, family, friends, romantic relationships, work, creative outlets, health, spirituality, and community. Hold an attitude of gratitude.
  • Make a positive change.

In 1981, I went on a 10-day trip where we went hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing on an Outward-Bound course. An instructor told us to be positive instead of complaining. “If you’re cold, put on a layer of clothes,” he said. “If you’re hot, take off a layer of clothes. If your socks are wet, change them. Out here if your socks freeze, you’ll lose toes.” How often do we stay in “wet socks” when we could put on clean, dry ones?

Anthony J. D’Angelo shed light on complaining by saying: “If you have time to whine and complain about something, then you have the time to do something about it.”