Research suggests that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. In fact, the same research suggests that we complain so much, most people don’t even know they’re doing it. Our brains don’t register it as complaining, but the negative side effects compound with every complaint.
Complaining is tempting because it causes a feel-good effect for you, the complainer. Not only does it allow you to openly express your feelings, it helps you gain justification for the way you feel from others. It also helps you establish conversations and rapport with people who may just be meeting for the first time. Don’t believe me? Think about every time you ride in an elevator with another person. How do you start conversations with them? Maybe it’s something like, “Thankfully it’s Friday, huh?”, or what about “It sure is cold out there this morning isn’t it?”. While these are typical conversation starters that make you likable, they’re also complaints. You may complain a few times before you even get off the elevator, before you even truly start your day.
While complaining may feel good, it’s just like every other thing that may feel good but not actually be good for you. It isn’t good for your overall well-being, and is actually proven to make even the peppiest of people more negative.
Three Ways Complaining Makes You More of a Negative Person
1. It actually wires your brain for negativity. Even though it’s an incredibly powerful machine, our brains don’t like to work any harder than they have to – they favor efficiency. When you complain regularly, or engage in any activity on a regular basis, your neurons branch out and connect to each other so that information can flow easier. This is a gateway for easy repetition of that behavior in the future. In this case, it means that future complaining will come easy to you. In essence, you’re literally re-wiring your brain for negativity. But it’s not just a network of negative-infused neurons that can cause problems. A study from Stanford University showed that complaining can also affect other areas of your brain, like shrinking your hippocampus. This part of the brain is important for problem solving and intelligent thought.
2. It’s bad for your health. Aside from the mental implications, complaining can also affect your health. When you complain, your body releases cortisol. This is a stress hormone that can raise your blood pressure or blood sugar. As with any type of stress, increased cortisol can cause you to feel anxious regularly, cause difficulty falling and stay asleep, regular headaches, weight gain, and impaired immune system and more. It can also make you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It can even make you make more vulnerable to strokes.
3. It prompts you to surround yourself with other complainers. As humans, we like to surround ourselves with those who confirm our biases or beliefs. We like to hang out with people who think like we do. When comradery is formed through complaining, it can make you seek out more people who enjoy partaking in the activity with you, or who have the same complaints that you do. But the old saying you become who you associate with has merit here. Our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us. Therefore, the more complainers you associate with, the more complaining you will participate in and the more negative you can ultimately become.
Why Does it Matter to You?
Cutting down on complaining preserves positivity and your well-being. There are two simple ways you can do that.
First, reflect on everything that you are grateful for in your life. It’s easy to just focus on the negative things happening around us. But when you stop and think about all of the good happening around you, all of the things you have to be thankful for, you’ll probably find that they far outweigh the bad. Research from the University of California, Davis found that people who take the time to focus on what they’re grateful for every day are healthier and happier than those who don’t.
Second, if you must complain, engage in solution-oriented complaining. This kind of complaint has a clear purpose behind it, and is focused on addressing a specific issue. It also starts and ends with a positive. For example, if you’re having trouble with a co-worker, try complaining to your boss in this way – “I’ve really enjoyed working with Joe over the last five years, but lately he’s missed several important deadlines without much regard for how it impacts the other members of our department. How can we address this with him so that he and I can still have a good working relationship, but we ensure that our work is done efficiently and to the highest standard?
It’s foolish to say that you can completely eliminate complaining from your life. But rather than falling victim to it on a regular basis, employ one or both of the above strategies to stifle the negativity.