“People are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong...why not try the other way, to look into the patient and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” — Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve noticed that we’ve become an increasingly cynical society, complaining about anything to anyone who will listen. Cynicism has become our second nature. We have become such masterful complainers that we complain incessantly.
We fret about our aches, pains and illnesses, our bad luck, our difficult spouses, and our disobedient children. We criticise the attitude of our colleagues, the carelessness of our employees, the highhandedness of our clients, the aloofness of our neighbours—oh, we even complain about our neighbouring countries. We lament about our incompetent MPs, our ineffective governments, the opportunistic opposition parties, the corrupt politicians, the irresponsible film stars, the greedy sportsmen, the unethical media, the declining economy and on and on. We wail about our past, our present and even our future.
We spare no one, not even God! Indeed, the believers among us whine and whimper the most to the ‘almighty’ for creating an unfair world.
We have become such masterful complainers that we complain incessantly
Complaining is pointless
But have you thought about what you’re really achieving by all your complaining? If you reflect a bit, you will realise that complaining is pointless—it achieves nothing good.
And no, it’s not harmless either. Repeated complaining rewires your brain, making you more inclined to complain. Overdone, complaining can destroy your life. Every time you complain about something or someone, you feed your inner cynic, which becomes stronger and stronger—until it starts dominating your entire thought process. If this continues, soon you can’t see anything good in your life. The world begins to appear as a hopeless place and you react strongly to every little uncomfortable event, labelling it as terrible, awful, mean and so on. And because misery loves company, it is easy to find other complainers to empathise with your ‘hopeless’ worldview. Social media, for instance, has become a favourite place for airing your grievances—you find many who will ‘like’ and ‘share’ your posts encouraging you and inviting others to join the bandwagon.
Most of our complaints are about things over which we have no control—the corrupt politicians, the pathetic state of our roads, the declining economy. When we complain about these things, we simply add to the noise out there while feeding the negativity in our minds. What's worse, cynicism often makes what is easy look difficult.
Most of our complaints are about things over which we have no control
Are you exaggerating?
The cynics are so obsessed with complaining about the thorns that they miss the beauty of the rose. When we grumble about our personal problems, it keeps us focussed on what’s wrong, blocking any possibility of a solution coming to us. Also, we tend to get attached to our problems because they become a way to attract attention from others. This makes us exaggerate the issues that are troubling us. But people close to habitual complainers tend to get fed up sooner or later and then try to avoid them.
Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking says, "People won't have time for you if you are always angry or complaining." Here is a man who could claim every right to complain given his grave physical condition, and he says that complaining doesn't work.
I have found that a good rule to follow, when a complaining thought arises is to check whether the problem is within your small circle of influence or is it just in the larger circle of concern, about which you can do nothing. If it is the former, stop right there and do whatever you can to address the issue; if it’s the latter, stop right there and go about your life. In either case, put an end to your whining. You’ll see what you’ve been missing.
A Zen joke about complaining
There once was a monastery that was very strict. The monks who lived there had to take a vow of silence—no one was allowed to speak. The only exception to this rule was that every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak two words.
At the end of his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. "It has been ten years," said the head monk. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"
"Bed hard" said the monk.
"I see," replied the head monk.
Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk's office. "It has been ten more years," said the head monk. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"
"Food stinks" said the monk.
"I see," replied the head monk.
Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, "What are your two words now, after these ten years?"
"I quit!" said the monk.
"Well, I can see why," replied the head monk. "All you ever do is complain."
A version of this article first appeared in in the May 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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