October 4, 2020
The boss is incompetent, the guy who voted for the “wrong” candidate is a moron, the child who isn’t taking the career path of your choice is a disappointment. And the state of the world in general, don’t even start!
It’s so easy to see what’s wrong with the world and everyone in it. A lot is going on that isn’t to our liking. And once we’ve seen the flaws, we can find ourselves regularly talking about them with anyone who will listen. Gossip and negativity are great distractions when we’re feeling stuck, unsuccessful, or unhappy.
Sometimes, complaining about the world or exploring what’s wrong with other people makes us feel better. For a moment, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re doing something. But we’re not.
I’m no exception. For the last six months, I’ve found myself using the “moron” word, even if only in my head, more times than I can count.
But here’s my experience. With every disparaging remark I make, without taking some positive action, I become smaller and appear more impotent. I can feel the negativity sap my creativity and motivation, and reinforce whatever I thought was wrong in the first place. But there is a way out. We can transform complaints into accomplishments and take responsibility for creating our happiness.
Take one hundred percent responsibility for your happiness.
Jack Canfield, Founder of the billion-dollar Chicken Soup for the Soul publishing empire, inspirational speaker and trainer, says, “You must take responsibility for your happiness and your unhappiness, your successes, and your failures, your good times and your bad times.”
But what does that mean?
Am I responsible for being born with a crumbly spine? Or for my friend’s habit of being thirty minutes late to everything? Or for my neighbor’s unmown lawn and hideous gargoyle decorations?
Nope, we are not responsible for anything to do with anybody else. We get to have opinions, we can choose to help others out if they need us, but we are not responsible for their behaviors, poor lifestyle choices, or sad decorating aesthetics. We are, however, responsible for how we handle them when they show up in our lives.
In each case, we have a choice. I can complain about my lousy spine while sitting on my butt watching TV, or I can run in place while I watch TV, or do weight-bearing and core-strengthening exercises, and take bone health supplements and eat a healthy diet.
If your whining, nagging, and temper tantrums haven’t worked to get your friend to be on time, try something else. Go thirty minutes later yourself. Or stop making plans that a thirty-minute late start will disrupt. You get to make decisions that serve you, even if someone disagrees with those decisions.
If the neighbor’s lawn is making you nuts, ask them if they mind you mowing it for them while you’re doing yours. It doesn’t hurt to grease the wheels in case you need a favor down the road. And besides, it just feels good to help.
Take responsibility for cleaning up your act, doing what you can do to improve the situation. Stop complaining. Do something about whatever’s bugging you.
Make your peace with reality.
Byron Katie, self-help guru and the creator of “The Four Questions and the Turn-around”, in her book Loving What Is, says: “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”
Start paying attention to how often you, or the people around you, use the word “should” to describe how they would like things to be. We “should” so often we don’t notice we’re doing it. We think we’re having a conversation! We’re not. We’re arguing with reality. We’re complaining.
“It shouldn’t be this cold — it’s only Halloween.” But it is this cold. How does railing against it serve anyone? Just like the weather, many things are simply unchangeable.
“He should raise his children differently.” But he isn’t. He’s raising them the way his parents raised him. Whose business is that, really?
“My kids shouldn’t talk back to me.” But they do. How do you want to handle it so that someone learns something? You may be surprised when the learner is you.
“Children shouldn’t die before their parents.” But they do, as unthinkable as that is. And spending years in a state of “it shouldn’t have happened” blocks our ability to grieve and move forward in our lives. This one is tough because somehow, we’ve come to believe that the measure of our railing against reality has some relationship to how much we loved someone. And that’s just not true.
Making peace with reality doesn’t mean we prefer or would choose what happened over our fantasy version of it. Or that our hearts don’t break sometimes. Or that we don’t grieve the loss of the life we thought we were going to have. It means that we put our attention on doing things that move us in the direction of what we want. Things that make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of those with whom we come in contact.
If you’re not happy with something in your life, if you are unsatisfied with the bed you’ve made, make it over and over again as often as needed. You are not required to keep sleeping in it, regardless of what your parents told you.
Sure, there are going to be times when we just need to vent before we can figure out what the problem is or know what help we need. Our world is a complex combination of magnificent and harsh realities. You can bet there was a lot of complaining before women figured out how to launch a suffrage movement. Today we’re seeing a perfect example of how speaking up, when done constructively, can create long-overdue change.
Use complaints creatively.
Here’s are four steps to turn complaints into accomplishments.
- Compile a list of all your complaints. Your list is a tool. Pay special attention to the topics you gravitate towards repetitively–your grumpy partner, the deterioration of civility, your home, your finances, your children, your hair, your physical or mental health. You may have ten or a hundred complaints. The number doesn’t matter.
- Review one complaint and jot down any actions you’ve taken to address the things about which you’re unhappy. At this point, your list of “actions I’ve taken” may be disturbingly short. But if you have taken action to solve the problem, you can remove the complaint from the list because you’ve already turned it into an accomplishment. You’ve done something productive to address a real problem.
- For each complaint that is left, write down one small step that could move you in the direction you want to go. If you can’t think of an action to fix the problem or at least reduce your frustration, maybe the perceived “issue” is none of your business. Make sure you are investing your energy in something that matters to you, and upon which you can have an impact.
- When you’ve completed an action, recognize it. Use checkmarks or gold stars. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have taken a step that brought you one step closer to being one hundred percent responsible for your happiness.
May sound silly but try this. Put your complaint list on a big whiteboard. It’s more dramatic and makes it fun rather than a chore. But a journal or your phone is fine too. What matters is that you start to see how much time and energy you expend focusing on things that are draining you, without giving you a payoff.
Just taking that very first step — making a list of all the things you complain about, can be an eye-opener. If you have a hard time coming up with a complaint list, ask your kids, partner, or best friend if they’ve heard you complaining. I bet they’ll be happy to enlighten you.
It can be daunting to think about how much needs to be done to make our world better for our children. But we can start right where we are and clean up our own backyard, modeling how to do it. No more preaching, just showing them how it’s done.