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by Marie T. Russell

Complain? Don’t we all? Of course we do, yet do we know how to complain properly? Is there such a thing as complaining properly? Isn’t complaining just a “negative” thing? Or is it a necessary way of venting our frustrations?

First let’s look at what complaining is. Our trusty Webster has these two definitions of the word complain:  

1) To express feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment and;
2) To make a formal accusation.  

OK, so when we complain, we‘re saying that we don’t like the way something is. That’s a good beginning, since before we can find a solution to anything, we must be aware that there is a problem, or something that needs to change. So complaining is the first step in making any changes—becoming aware that there is something we would like to change, something we are dissatisfied with.

But that’s where we often get stuck. Rather than move on to the finding of a solution, we remain in the complaining mode. Just think about it... We do it in our feelings with ourselves, with our mates, with our co-workers, boss, children, etc. etc. We complain, we badger, we moan and groan. We go on and on about the problem... about what’s wrong... about what we dislike... But we sometimes forget to move on to the next part—the part where we take action and make changes.

A lot of us complain about our job... we don’t like it, we‘re underpaid, under-appreciated, overworked, etc. etc. Or we complain about our health—we‘re overweight, under-energized, tired, sick, have allergies, etc. etc. Or we complain about our mate and children... or our neighbors... or our politicians... Ah, yes, there is so much to complain about... Which can be seen in a positive light. It means there’s a lot of places where we can have some effect... A lot of areas where we can make a difference. Except for one thing... We‘re stuck in mode one: Identifying the problem (complaining).

Somehow, we‘re convinced that complaining, all by itself, will make a difference. Now, tell me, those of you who have teenagers, how many times does complaining that their room is messy make a difference? In any situation in life, how many times does complaining ever make a difference? On its own, probably not too often. However, when we follow up the complaining (or better yet, skip the complaining, because we’ve already been there, done that) by starting to look at resolutions, solutions, ways to “fix” the problem, then we‘re getting somewhere.

We are not powerless. As a matter of fact we are very powerful beings, but we have forgotten that. Our power lies in the fact that we can change things in our life, in our environment, in our behavior, in our thoughts. Our weakness is that for too long we have focused on the problems and not enough on the solutions. Ooops, I’m doing it myself right now... OK, we’ve identified complaining as an incomplete solution to any problem... so where do we go from here?

Let’s look again about the things I mentioned earlier that we complain about. OK. The easiest ones to change are the ones that only affect ourselves. So let’s look first at our health. So you complain about being overweight and under-energized, tired, sick, etc. Well, we all know that there are many solutions to those problems. We can no longer blame it “on the gods“. We know that we can affect those health challenges simply by starting with proper diet and fluid intake (skipping the sugar drinks), exercise, fresh air, and a positive attitude (willingness to do something about it).  

So anytime you find yourself complaining about not feeling well, or being tired, ask yourself: What can I do about this? How can I take charge of my life so that I don’t feel this way? The great thing is that we always know what to do. I was speaking with someone the other day who hasn’t been feeling well. When I suggested that they see a health practitioner to see what the problem was... my friend said that he knew what he needed to do, he just needed to do it—he knew he needed to eat better, exercise, quit smoking, etc. etc..

In most cases, we know what we need to do to remedy the situation about which we complain. Take charge of our life. If it's work we complain about, there again, we need to take a hard look and see what it is we need to change. Maybe it is time for you to move on to another job, or maybe you need to stand up and ask for a raise. Yet, sometimes it's as simple as changing our attitude - from one of constant complaining, to one of looking for solutions. And the solution is usually found in changing ourselves - not in trying to change "the other".  

I know that it’s always easier to complain and blame someone else (haven’t we all done it?) than to admit that we are the ones who need to change. If one of your co-workers aggravates you “to no end“, of course one solution is to quit your job, but then, the next job may have someone who aggravates you even more. The solution probably lies in looking at what really aggravates you and asking yourself two things: Is it that important? and Why does it aggravate me so much?

Answering these two questions truthfully will greatly alleviate the pressure. The idea is to search for things you can do... whether it is in changing your attitude, your expectations, your actions, your thoughts, your job, your whatever... This is not about blame and condemnation - either of yourself or the other persons involved. No one can make you happy but yourself. If you've decided to be miserable, no one can make you happy - unless you decide you no longer want to be miserable and choose happiness instead.  

If you’ve decided that someone’s behavior bothers you, then it will. So why not decide that you can handle it? And then see what can be done? Sometimes, the interaction with the other person can be minimized so that you have less opportunities to be aggravated... but we can’t always control the actions of others (can we ever?). However, since our own actions and thoughts are in our own jurisdiction, that’s where we can make a difference.  

So when you hear yourself complaining, the first question to ask is: What can I do about this situation? What can I change about myself to alleviate the problem? Sometimes it’s as simple as accepting that your co-worker (or whoever) is the way they are, and choosing to “live with it“. Then, the next step is to see what can be done in the external world as well, keeping in mind, that everyone has the right to their “space“, their way of living, their way of being. Sometimes, the best way to “change someone else” is by being an example... The dictum goes: Change yourself, and the world will change with you.

So complain yes, but once only, not on and on and on. Complain so that you identify the thing that needs changing, and then do something about it. Complaining only adds more fuel to the fire... If you want to extinguish the fire, you need to take action. Not just sit there and complain... Move on to step two: What can I do about it so that I can be at peace with this situation? What do I need to do in order to: 1) learn to accept 2) make a difference.  

We‘re all familiar with the Serenity prayer:  

Lord grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the Courage to change the things I can;
and the Wisdom to know the difference.


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