What Complaining Does To Your Brain... And Your Happiness
I'd like you to stop and think for a moment: How many times did you complain today? What were your biggest complaints?
If you find that it was a lot and that your complaints are all over the place, then you definitely will want to keep reading.
Complaining can be a trap that sabotages our happiness and success at work.
So what exactly do I mean by complaining?
Complaining is expressing dissatisfaction, resentment, a grievance or a state of suffering.
Complaining is not just making an observation of something that's wrong.
I can say, "It's hot outside," and depending on my inflection, it will have two completely different meanings. In one way, it sounds like I'm simply reporting the weather, but I can also say it in a way that makes it sound like I'm dying in the middle of the desert and feel like my skin is burning off. That’s complaining.
Complaining is taking an observation and adding negative energy or emotion to it.
When you complain, you are indeed suffering.
But here's the thing...
When we go through life, struggle is inevitable. But suffering is a choice.
Complaining is a trap that sabotages your happiness and success at work because it triggers your negativity bias.
What's your negativity bias? It's your brain’s natural impulse to focus on anything that's bad, wrong or threatening.
Our negativity bias is great and necessary for helping us survive because it makes us alert to and focused on bad or threatening stuff. But it's not great for helping us thrive.
When our negativity bias gets triggered, our attention goes to all the bad stuff, which makes it really hard to see things in any other light. And without being aware and making a conscious effort to override our instinctive negative tendencies, we keep ourselves from seeing what’s good around us, and all the possibilities for correcting or improving the situation.
I know complaining can feel so good, especially when others jump in.
But it's not the communal complaining that's creating the sense of relief. It's the fact that it feels good to be heard and acknowledged. It’s validating to have others share your feelings; it means you’re not alone.
Fact is, it’s still possible to get all that without infusing everything you say with shades of suffering.
And here's another thing: Complaining is completely unproductive—it literally sucks the possibility for addressing the source(s) of your complaint in order to change things. Who can focus on potential solutions or positive improvements when you’re so busy spilling your woes to friends, colleagues, loved ones, the cab driver…and anyone else who will listen.
So how do you break the pattern and get out of this trap? I have a two-point system for you:
1. Go on a one-week “complaint vacation." Basically, what this means is, for the next seven days, I want you to take a rest from complaining. This might not be easy at first—in fact, in the beginning it can feel like a real working vacation! But it’s not unlike quitting any bad habit. You just have to be really aware—of your feelings, your attitude, your moods…and as soon as you feel yourself about to slip into complaining mode, pause, take a breath and focus on neutralizing your tone and energy. Don’t think you can control yourself? Then don’t open your mouth! Unless in sharing, you’ll also be addressing the source of your issue. (And even then, check your tone.)
2. Write down 5 things you appreciate about your work—and your life every day during your complaint vacation. At first this may seem fake—especially when you're not happy. But it just takes practice, and the more you think about it and do it, the more, you'll notice, you have to appreciate. (Funny how that works.) And if you’re really having a hard time, remember that things like your parking spot, the free coffee, the supply of great pens, even your intern’s sense of humor all count as things you appreciate.
Need more helping breaking free of complaining—and ultimately dealing with the cause of it all? In other words, want more happiness at work?
Then join me in The Work Happiness Method—my newest 8-week course guaranteed to make you happier about your work situation…or your money back.
Yep, seriously, this is good stuff. Check it out!
My best to you,