You might hear people saying that they don’t like being around negative people. You might have even said something like that. Indeed, most of us tend to gravitate toward other people who are always apparently cheerful, upbeat, and positive. Yet, most folks don’t take the time to think about the fact that complaining is borne from negative mind processes and even fewer realize that this is detrimental to their health.
Complaining is common
In today’s world, complaining has become so common that virtually everyone does it to one degree or another. We use it in everyday conversations.
Often, the complaining is prefaced by “I wish…”. People will say, “I wish it wasn’t so cold” or “I wish it wasn’t so hot”. They’ll say, “I wish that person wouldn’t do that.” Maybe they’ll say, “I wish that prices weren’t so high” or “I wish I had more money.” This is all complaining.
Sometimes the complaining is more obvious. “I really hate that politician” or “The government is stupid” or “That company is only out to make money and they don’t care about anyone but themselves” are common statements.
Complaining also is a common cause of strife in families and between couples, often devolving into arguments. Let’s face it, we all like to receive compliments, yet we are very slow in giving them. A compliment is the opposite of a complaint and most people are far more prone to do the latter than the former.
Why do we complain?
Thought processes are triggered by synaptic activity in the brain. The more a particular pathway of that mental activity is used, the easier it becomes for the brain to use that pathway.
Although complaining utilizes negative thoughts, when we complain, we establish neural pathways. The more often we complain, the stronger those pathways become. It not only becomes second nature and something we do without thought (since the negative thinking already established the neural pathways), we are often not even aware we are doing it.
The original thoughts that created the negative neural pathways are nearly always rooted in self. In other words, when we think of our own wants, needs, desires, feelings, comfort, and so forth, before we think of anyone else, it is very easy to have the original thoughts that started the formation of those complaint pathways. In essence, we start comparing the entire world with what we think, feel, and want. The world can never measure up to that myopic view, so we are disappointed and complain.
Complaining is bad for health
We’ve already established that complaining occurs due to negative thoughts. There have been numerous studies done, including by the Mayo Clinic, on how health is compromised by negative thought.
What medical science has discovered is that negative thoughts increase stress, blood pressure, and heart rate, while lowering the immune system resistance and lowering serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is the “feel good” substance. It helps fight pain while having a calming effect on the mind.
What this adds up to is that people who habitually complain are much more apt to suffer from heart attacks, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, viral and other infections, cancer, they age faster, and there is a strong implication for illnesses such as diabetes. People who complain a lot also experience more pain in daily activities, due to lower serotonin levels.
The powerful implication is that the act of complaining can and does shorten our lives and our quality of life.
How to complain less
It is safe to say that virtually all of us should complain less than we do. There are ways to do it, too. The neuropathways originally required some thought before complaining became a norm. Establishing pathways that lead to positive thinking can be established in the same way.
First, we must become more aware when we are complaining. It is preferred that we become aware that we are about to complain before we actually do it. That gives us a chance to think about it for a moment and then to take a different thought path, using positive thought.
Since the biggest reason for the original thought that triggers the complaint is self-centeredness, we can learn to be more selfless and humble. That doesn’t mean completely disregarding your own feelings, needs, and desires. However, it does mean considering and elevating the feelings, needs, and desires of others.
It can also be quite helpful to consider how your complaint will change a situation. If a positive outcome is unlikely, it is senseless to complain. Instead, do something positive. This is akin to the old proverb, “Think before you speak”.
If you must speak, say something positive rather than negative. This takes effort, self-awareness, and practice, but you are creating and strengthening positive neuropathways when you do. It is an ongoing process, but one that is worthwhile. The results will be gradual, but they will be noticeable, particularly by others.
I’ll finish with another old proverb that is quite appropriate, though simple, “Rather than complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy that the thorn bush has roses.”