How Do Happy People Complain?

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There's a right way to groan.

Young woman making the V sign with the sea in the background.

For a society that hates incessant whingers, we certainly like to dip a toe in ourselves every now and then. Sure, complaining to a colleague about a mutual shit-storm creates solidarity and makes you feel you’re not alone in your frustrations. But, as you might not expect, the more you complain, discuss and dwell on a negative situation, the longer the effect of the negative experience, as shown in this particular study of 112 subjects from the European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology.

Despite its potential negatives, complaining is rampant nevertheless.

“Complaining allows us to achieve desired outcomes such as sympathy and attention,” explains psychology professor from Clemson University Robin M. Kowalski. “The truth is, everybody does it.”

But instead of mindlessly piling up your grievances, ready to dump on the closest unsuspecting human, consider whether you’re complaining for complaining’s sake, or to release a little steam before letting it go. “So much of happiness is intentional,” Robin explains. “We’re not born happy, but we can actively engage in activities that make us feel good.”

In the spirit of working towards changing those situations which you’re tempted to whinge about, here are a couple of ways to ‘complain’ that are actually constructive:

Complain with purpose

Crucially, in this study, Robin explains that complaining with a sense of purpose – or, mindfulness, if you will – can sometimes be the difference between a whinge that ends with a sense of closure, as opposed to something that only causes you to further dwell. Know your reasons for complaining before you begin – are you just trying to get something off your chest, or actually find a solution?

“For [mindful] people, there is likely to be little relationship between venting and dwelling because they aren’t going to dwell,” Robin says.

Be open to problem-solving

A lot of the time we wander consequence-less in our fury, but it could be time to consider potential solutions, especially for a situation that’s ongoing. As psychiatrist Eric Berne pointed out in his 1964 book, Games People Play, a lot of us see complaining as a venting exercise rather than a way to actually secure a desired outcome.

Some days, you just want a release, but, once in a while, consider the interjections of your spouse or friend if they try and offer solutions. You never know – you might just find a way to permanently quit that groaning.

Journal one every so often

There is such a thing as negativity fatigue – you know that feeling when you’re hearing, for the umpteenth time, the same complaint from your friend? Don’t do it to the people around you. Try penning your frustrations. Not only is it kind to your friends and family, it’s also incredibly helpful for your own stress levels (studies even show how it can improve physical health in addition to mental health).

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