What if you can only complain about 3 things each day and then you lose speaking privileges – how would that change the way you go about life?
What if you could only complain about 3 things per day?
How long would you last? Would your “complain meter” be completely filled before your first cup of coffee, or before lunch, or could you hypothetically last the entire day?
This is an interesting question to ask yourself because some of us tend to complain a lot even about the littlest of things.
You get caught at a long red light while driving. You come across an opinion on social media you disagree with. A celebrity is doing something stupid somewhere. What a torturous world we live in!
When you start a conversation with certain people, it sometimes feels like their first instinct is always “What can I complain about today?”
These are the types of people who actively search for problems everywhere and never answers. They also never miss an opportunity to ask for customer service.
You have to sometimes admire their creativity in how easily they find infinite things to nitpick and complain about – it takes brain power!
Even while talking about a positive experience, certain people always find a way to add a “Yeah, but…” to it. “That was a fun movie, but I really don’t like that one actor!” or “That was a good meal, but I’ve had better!”
The complainer is the ultimate comparer. When you always compare everything to everything – instead of enjoying what is offered to you in the moment – you’ll always find ways to be dissatisfied with your experiences.
Of course, nothing is perfect. There is always something you can potentially complain about – the question is what is actually worth complaining about. The bigger problem is when this negativity becomes addictive and it becomes a person’s default mode.
Perhaps being able to point at problems gives some people a sense of meaning, purpose, and being alive. “I must be alive, because look at all this crap I have to deal with! The world sucks!”
What if after you filled your complain meter for the day, you lost all speaking privileges? How would that change the way you go about life?
Perhaps in some sci-fi dystopian universe they would plant a chip into people’s brains that shuts off their speaking functions once they’ve filled their complain meter. (I don’t actually think this would be a good idea, but it is an interesting thought experiment).
That would incentive you to be way more mindful of how you speak throughout the day – you wouldn’t want to just waste your 3 complaints on silly and frivolous things. Perhaps you could save your complaints for the very end of the day, so you know you’ll be griping about the very worst ones.
Maybe by the end of the day you’ll even think, “You know what? I really don’t have much to complain about at all.”
Nothing is as important as it is when it’s happening to you in the moment. By the end of a long day, that coffee you spilled on your shirt in the morning isn’t really that noteworthy in the grand scheme of things. By tomorrow morning, you’ll have completely forgotten about it; never underestimate the power of sleeping it off to put things back into perspective.
Life is hard for everyone. I’m not going to pretend that everything in life is perfect and jolly, or that all problems are the equivalent of “spilling a drink on yourself.” People go through real shit and it’s important they have at least one person in their lives they can be radically honest with.
However, we have to choose our battles wisely and recognize when to talk about our problems vs. when it’s best to just “let it go” and not give it any extra attention it doesn’t deserve.
One rule of thumb I try to keep in mind when it comes to all social interaction is the “positivity ratio.” The positivity ratio is a theory put forward by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson that suggests a good balance between positive and negative emotions is 3:1.
In general for every negative thought you express, you should try to balance it out with several positive ones.
- In conversation, start off with some compliments, good news, or positive information before diving into something negative or critical.
- On social media, try to share a few pieces of uplifting, fun, or humorous posts for every one piece of critical thinking or negative news.
- When providing feedback to someone, always start with a bit of praise, then give your constructive feedback, then finish with more praise (this is often known as the “compliment sandwich”).
- In your mind, try to cultivate mental habits such as reflecting on a strength, past accomplishment, or something you’re grateful for, for every negative thought or self-criticism.
The key idea is not that we should avoid or suppress negative emotions (which serve a useful purpose in our lives), but that we should generally try to lean more toward the positive in everything we do.
This is true for all types of social interactions but it’s something we should especially consider when using the internet and social media, since the online disinhibition effect tends to bring out the worst in us when it comes to online behavior. No one is their “best self” on Facebook or Twitter.
So let’s play a game: how long can you go today before you fill up your complain meter?
Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement from The Emotion Machine: