The Happiness Challenge Part II – Complaining

If you listened what I said in my post last week, you made a Happy List to have on hand for when things get tough.  And if you are anything like me, you probably didn’t make one. You thought, “Hmm, that’s a really good idea” and then proceeded to pin it on Pinterest, never to be looked at again.  Or maybe you emailed it to yourself.  Perhaps you thought you’d just remember and didn’t need to write it down.  I know.  I’ve done it myself.  But guess how many of those things I figured I would remember actually helped me?  Zero.  Because if I don’t take the time to write it down with my own hands, I’m not really committing to it.

stop complaining
All surfaces in my home are this clean. Yup.
Studies show that writing things down (not just typing) helps us remember things better because we are engaging different parts of the brain.  Both the visual side – so you write it on the paper and not on the coffee table, and the verbal by finding the exact words you will be using.  Just like with recovery, just thinking about it doesn’t get it done.  If you want to take five minutes now to jot some down, I’ll wait.  Here’s a link to the article in case you missed it or need a refresher.

So now that we have that done, it’s on to the Advanced Exercise.  This is a challenge, no doubt. But I like a challenge. This is the last item on my happy list.  It’s my Big Guns when everything sucks.  It’s hard as hell, but it works.  My number one happy trick is:

Stop Complaining. 100%.

Don’t worry. I’ll give you the secret I use, and you won’t become some annoying Pollyanna type.

This is a game changer so stay with me here:  When you talk about something, you reinforce it to yourself.  By saying it out loud, you are plucking it from all the flotsam and jetsam that floats through your mind and saying, “Here.  This is true.  This is safe to say to the outside world.”  The more you focus on those things and see them as conversation pieces, the more your brain looks for evidence of them every day and stores them up.  So now they are multiplying.  You get to choose whether they are doing that for the good or the bad.

What will I say to people?

Complaining is tricky because it’s a social crutch.  Who can’t relate to stepping in a huge slush puddle on the way to an important meeting, or having the baby keep you up all night right before a big day?  It’s a safe topic. Like the weather, only not as boring.  Everyone will nod and commiserate with you, and you feel like you’ve made a connection.  But look at what you’ve actually done – you’ve taken something admittedly crummy and spread it. So now several people are thinking about circumstances from their past that are unpleasant.  No one’s day improves because of this.

When you think about it, how much of your conversations are spent complaining?  Go back and look at your text messages.  I’m always horrified when I do this.  It can happen before you realize it — you have become that person who is always bitching about something or another.  I know I can fall into this completely by accident.  But now I know how to turn it around.

It was a radical idea to me that something shitty could happen to me and I could just keep it to myself.  That it wouldn’t get worse for doing so. I think on some level I felt like if I told people something negative happened, they would then coddle me.

“The dry cleaner ruined my favorite shirt.”  Subtext – You should buy me an ice cream cone.

Definitely mint chip.
Being sad or scared and seeking comfort is not the same as complaining. If someone close to you dies, or you lose your job, of course, you need support.   You do not need to be comforted because the deli didn’t toast your bagel to your specifications.

One Day at a Time

This is some One Day at a Time business, but we’ve got practice with that.  Don’t wait til tomorrow or Monday or the next new moon. And don’t just try to complain less. That keeps the focus on the crappy things AND makes you feel deprived so they just fester. 

By taking the option completely off the table, a miraculous thing happens – you begin to let the things that annoy you go.  They serve no purpose anymore.  You aren’t going to entertain anyone with them.  Just like how the obsession with alcohol is lifted when we decide to give it up, your brain just says, “Well that’s off the table completely.  Might as well focus on something else.”
This happens quickly. I saw a major effect after about two days.  The world seemed a thousand times better.  I was practically giddy. I was focused on all the good stuff and barely noticing the bad.  Because really?  It’s not all that bad.  I was just magnifying it.

When everything goes wrong – My secret weapon

I get it.  Some days suck.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong over and over, and you feel like you are just going to explode if you can’t unload it all.

Sit down. I have stories.
Guess what?  You have permission.  You can complain to your little heart’s content for up to one hour.  But only AFTER you name one hundred things you are grateful for.

Yes, one hundred.  Not by rote.  Think about each thing as you count it and try to associate a sense with it.  When you are thankful for your baby think of her tiny chubby fingers.  When you are thankful for your home, think about how great it feels to open the door after you’ve been away.  You don’t have to write it all down, but I find keeping count with a pen and little hash marks keeps me from losing track.  This may take awhile.  If you REALLY need to complain, make your way through it.  But for me, I found that this exercise stopped my complaining every time.  Mostly because I was in such a better mood it was no longer necessary, but sometimes it was just the feeling of, “Oh screw it.  This is too much work.  It’s not worth it.”  Either way, I never got to one hundred.  But I know I could if I needed to.

Me too

I was going strong with this for a long time and fell off the complaint-free wagon about seven months ago because I was feeling sorry for myself.  (Never a good look on me.)  So with this post, I am dusting myself off and getting back to it because I know it makes my life better.  It makes me a happier person.  And I love the idea that in looking back at my day, I can say I put only good out into the world with my words.

What would happen if you started right now?  

I’d love to hear how this goes for you. Here in the comments or on social media.