Sustain-ability: The Anti-rant Rant

The spouse is a great source of awesome stuff on the Internet. He has a knack for finding really interesting and cool things that make me think (or laugh, sometimes both). He also has this superpower where he always knows what's going to be best on a menu. Seriously, at this point I just have what he's having...

Anyway, he passed along this really great article on why complaining is terrible for you. The TL;DR version is that complaining is bad for you because:

  • It rewires your brain to be more pessimistic and is therefore bad for your mental health.
  • It's contagious and can create a terrible feedback loop in social groups.
  • It's bad for your physical health due to the stress it causes.
It was hard to find an image here that wasn't either
nauseatingly smarmy or blindingly thoughtless.

Now, I want to be very careful here not to conflate the danger of complaining with a lack of reason for complaining. There are certainly reasons that people might feel like they can complain. For example: 783 million people don't have access to clean drinking water, 795 million don't have enough food to eat, and about 29 million don't even own their own freedom. 

There are even reasons that you or I might complain: police forces around the US have been infiltrated by racists; a totalitarian, racist, fascist megalomaniac has won a plurality of support in one of the only two major political parties in the US; and the scourge of unregulated consumerism is taking over the entire Western world. 

Making a conscious decision to avoid complaining about things doesn't mean we don't acknowledge that there are problems. And feeling gratitude for having clean water, enough food, and my freedom from slavery doesn't mean I think that everything is perfect or that we can't do better even here where I live.

Ignoring problems is blindness. Acknowledging problems is realism. Working to solve problems is activism. But bitching about problems? That's just unhelpful.

I think the biggest risk of complaining is that it's dis-empowering. It's a verbal statement that you have no power over a situation: either power to change the situation or power to change your own attitude about it. And sure, I do it too, just like I do other things that are bad for me. And like other things that are bad for me, when I spend too much time complaining I don't feel good. But worse, when I'm complaining, I'm a) not solving the problem and b) not getting any perspective on the problem. For example, if I'm sick and tired of morning commute traffic, then I need to either look for an alternate route to work or re-read those stats above in order to get a little perspective and then buy myself some books on tape. 

We can't afford to dis-empower ourselves when there're already so many external forces that would like to do it for us. However, we also shouldn't be coming down on other people who are complaining. One of the worst things you can do to someone is to dismiss their very real pain and worry and stress as "first world problems." They're still problems after all and to that person at that time they are serious enough to complain about. If you can move them to a solution or acceptance mindset great, but dismissing their feelings outright doesn't help them or you (you're just complaining about their complaining). People who have a reason to complain are still not helped by doing it, but that doesn't mean their reasons are bad

But you also don't need to subject yourself to it either. In my mental health post, I talked about how crazy is contagious. Well, from the article, it seems that complaining and it's ill effects are as well. So honor people's need to complain, but don't get caught up it in. If you friends' favorite hobby is bitching, you need to expand your circle a bit. 

I have a dear friend who is really positive. Even when she's talking about a problem, she's focusing on what she can do about it or another way to look at it. But she's also not a perky Polyanna. No, she's an amazing woman and I value her for several reasons, but this is one of the major ones. When I'm tempted to gripe (and I come from a family of bitchers, let me tell you!) I think of her good example.

Just this morning the spouse and I were joking about how in some ways we're young adults again (except for the grey hair and treacherous bodies). After a hard road of recovery, he's considering what he will do for the rest of his life. And despite the fact that I have a solid career, I'm thinking about new things too -- like the services available here on CircleThrice. But that's what life is, if you think about it. It's a process and not a product, a journey rather than a destination. And while you set goals to reach them -- of course -- it's the progress you make rather than the end point that matters.

Complaining just impedes that progress. It's what you do instead of. Choosing the right destination is important (that's goal setting) and determining the right path is also important (that's project planning), but in the end you have to take the first step and then every step after in order to get anywhere.

A sustainable life is one where you have the means, motive, and opportunity to set and achieve a goal and then keep moving forward from that point. There are limitations of course, and a lot of them are external and out of our control (my goal of being Queen of the Universe isn't going so great). But complaining is an internal limitation and therefore completely under our control.

Even the best of us complain sometimes, because sometimes we're them. But let's not glorify it as venting or ranting or anything else that sounds like a good thing or cathartic or therapeutic -- because it's not. Better to scream the things you're grateful for, better to journal your plans and goals. Better to keep on moving forward.

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