Why we complain and why it matters
In the last year I contacted four companies with complaints and thanked one server for her wonderful work and hospitable manner. That’s right; I complained four times more than I encouraged. I have this sneaking suspicion I am not alone. Why do we like to complain?
We think we are victims of injustice.
How dare Applebee’s serve me lukewarm fries!? How dare my church play that music I don’t like!? How dare my kids leave their stuff all over the floor when I work to provide this house for them!? I can’t believe all these people are doing all these things to me. I deserve better!
We think the worst.
When I treat someone poorly it is because I have a lot of stress and am having a bad day. When they treat me poorly it is because they are mean people. When I cut someone off in traffic it is because I didn’t see them. When they cut me off it is because they are jerks. Or idiots. Or both. Who do these people think they are!?
We enjoy it.
Look, I can’t explain this one, but there is just something attractive about complaining. Maybe it gets things off our chest. Maybe we just need to vent. Maybe we want to make others as miserable as we feel at the moment.
We don’t know how to have conversations.
I tell my kids all the time that if they don’t like something their sibling is doing (or their parents, like that ever happens!) they should talk it out. Instead of whining and complaining, just talk through what’s going on and try to figure out a solution. But…whining is a lot easier.
But why does it matter? Who cares if we complain?
Complaining destroys gratitude.
Most people reading this (and certainly the guy writing it) are unbelievably blessed. Yet when we have a disposition of complaining, we are basically stating that we have nothing to be grateful for. Life is so bad that we have to moan and complain at the slightest inconvenience. So my fries were cold. You know what wasn’t cold–me as I slept in my warm bed in my warm house while it was below zero outside. Complaining puts us in a place to be people who are horrible at being grateful.
Complaining destroys happiness.
Have you ever met someone who is happy while they’re complaining? Ever met a chronic complainer who you’d describe as one of the happiest people you know? Me either.
Complaining destroys people.
Here’s what gets lost in most of my complaining. I care more about how I’m being treated or the circumstances unfolding around me than I do the other people who are involved. So my Starbucks barista gets crappy with me. Maybe it’s a signal that I should encourage her instead of asking for a manager (or as someone who hates conflict, go online to share my thoughts). So my kids leave their stuff all over; I can ask them to clean it up and not let it define our evening together. I say I care about people. My complaining often says otherwise.
Complaining destroys responsibility.
When I complain, what I’m really saying is “why doesn’t someone do something about this?!” Yes, it is always someone else’s problem/fault.