The Complaint Department; or, the evolution of an optimist(?)

I know this week we’re supposed to focus on the things we’re thankful for, but let’s be honest – sometimes it’s pretty darn hard to feel grateful. Sometimes there’s no silver lining in sight. Sometimes we’re just not happy. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project has some interesting tips on how not to be happy:

— Hone your powers of discernment so that practically nothing can meet your standards, and be sure to tell everyone else how the food, performance, or service fell short.

— When someone bugs you — whether it’s a stranger talking loudly on a cell phone or a relative repeating the same maddeningly stupid jokes year after year — tell as many people about it as possible. You may even need to see a therapist twice a week to talk about your grievances sufficiently.

— Avoid any physical effort. Drive everywhere, and when at home, get off the sofa as little as possible.

— Cultivate habits that keep you feeling stretched and overwhelmed. If you’re short on cash, overcharge on your credit card. If you’re busy at work, stay up late cruising the Internet or flipping among cable channels. If you don’t have enough time to yourself, make complex plans that will take lots of time and errands to manage — say, plan an elaborate birthday party for a two-year-old.

She also suggests that for some people it’s just less work to be unhappy. (That seems in line with my suggestion in an earlier post that it’s less work to be a pessimist.) She’s being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I think the message is fairly clear – you can do something to change your situation, and that “something” is not complaining!

I’ll listen to people’s complaints up to a point, but after awhile I tend to lose patience, whether or not I express it. And I really lose patience listening to myself complain. I used to be dedicated to not being The Complaint Department; one of my girlfriends and I held to the motto that “if you can’t do anything about it, shut up about it!” And I still try to operate that way most of the time – I try to figure out what I can do about it, and then I do it, and move on. I’ve read that “venting” really isn’t all that constructive sometimes anyway. And for a self-professed “realist”/pessimist, I’m actually pretty good at trying to find something good in a bad situation – I’ll give you a few examples in just a minute.

And yet, as I was mulling over these things one day recently, I was on my way to work, complaining about the traffic again. I do what I can about that, too – leave early, monitor the traffic reports, know alternate routes – but some days none of it helps. I’m getting tired of myself being tired of it.

But if I’m going to be in complaining mode anyway, there have been a few things in our lives lately that warrant it:
  • Taking my car in for maintenance, having other repairs done on top of that, and not getting it back until 4 days and $2300 later. (Fortunately, my husband let me use his car, and he took the piece-of-junk rental that the dealer paid for.)
  • Still short-staffed at the office, and I’d say I’m so tired of the turnover, the frustration, and work left late or undone that I could scream, but I’m too tired to bother; yet fortunately, I’ve somehow gotten a lot of my work more current even with all that, and it looks like we’ll have a change in that situation by early December.
  • This isn’t really a complaint, more of an observation/frustration – why do I sometimes have an overflow of ideas for blog posts, and sometimes there’s nothing? I try to draft them up a few days ahead of when I intend to post an entry, and I’m blowing through my stockpile for this week. It only really matters right now because of NaBloPoMo, but I get anxious about the well running dry or something. Fortunately, I do have the rest of this week covered (but only up to Friday, so I need to get on that!) – and who knows what will come along in the next few days to offer inspiration?
Well, what do you know? I guess complaining and venting can be constructive sometimes – writing this actually did make me feel better.

I’m also glad I was able to find a bright side for every complaint – could I be turning into an optimist after all these years?!

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  • It’s important to be grateful.

    It’s also important to feel free to complain if and when it’s necessary. Complaining is our birthright! Complaining is lovely and delicious and good for the soul! Let’s hear it for complaining!

    Within reason, of course.

    Have a great Thanksgiving, Florinda!

  • Working Girl – Yeah, I think it’s the “freedom” to complain that I have trouble with. And I know there are times when it actually does serve to get people to take action. Sometimes it just looks a lot like plain ol’ whining, though.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Karen!

  • I feel like I’ve been complaining too much lately. I actually complain very little outside of to myself and to my husband. I rarely confront anyone with my complaints unless I know it’s something that can be changed or fixed. And even then, sometimes I let it go a little too long. Probably not the best approach. I am with you though with your “if you can’t do anything about it, shut up about it!” philosophy. I truly do believe sometimes that that is the best way to approach it. It gets on my nerves when people continuously complain about the same things over and over again and do not do anything to change their situation.

  • Literary Feline – I know what you mean. I think I’m getting sick of myself lately because I’m choosing not to change my job/commuting situation right now, and yet I’m still griping about it. But if I stoppedcomplaining about traffic, I’d lose so much blog fodder! ๐Ÿ™‚