I don’t always like life. One journal entry I wrote describes this well: “This morning I awoke in my normal weekday mindset…and completely detested life.” Some mornings I look at the day ahead and say, “Gross. I’ve already had one of these and I’m so done with it already.” It doesn’t seem so wrong to say this, really. But let me give you the same scenario from a different perspective:
Every breath you breathe is a gift from God. Picture this with me: you wake up in the morning, God looks at you lovingly and hands you a new day. “Whadya think?” He questions, eyes glistening with excitement.
“Gross. I’ve already had one of these and I’m so done with it already.”
Seeing as how I’m writing to millennial college students, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we all fall prey to complaining. I’ve already admitted that I complain sometimes, so I have first-hand experience. However, as a comm major and psych minor, I’m also familiar with some aspects of how what we do influences how we think…and vice versa. With this background, I sincerely hope to shock you with some of the dangers of complaining, and thereby inspire you to complain a little less each day.
Bad for you: Some of you may recognize that complaining is bad for you. Others may feel that complaining is okay. I mean, you’re just “venting” and if you don’t “vent” you’re going to keep all your problems hidden inside of you until you burst. Well, nice try. Really though, complaining is bad for you.
Steven Parton (n.d.), in his article The Science of Happiness: Why Complaining is Literally Killing You, explains how the brain has the ability to rewire itself. When you practice something, your brain literally rewires itself, making new neural connections and shortcuts. Just like how learning to play the piano makes piano-playing easier, complaining makes negative thoughts more prominent and easier to come by. It physically changes your brain. Travis Bradberry (2017), Ph.D. and co author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, backs up this claim, concluding that complaining can become a default, regardless of outside circumstances, when you practice it on a daily basis.
Bradberry (2017) continues on to note that complaining also increases the stress hormone cortisol into your body. Think about that for a minute. The act of complaining actually biologically increases your stress. When you wake up in the morning and gripe about the day, you are physically setting yourself up for a tougher day–you’re setting yourself up for stress. And everyone knows the dangers of stress: it makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Not good. Just sayin’.
Another reason to avoid complaining is because communication creates reality. That which you see you are more likely to look for and that which you look for your more likely to see. If you start complaining about something, you will start to see all there is so complain about, which leads to a dangerously downward spiral. I bet if you give it some thought, you can remember a day where, after one thing went wrong, the whole day seemed to bomb. This happens partly because once one thing goes wrong, you’re more likely to have that negative attitude and perspective.
Bad for your friends
Just as colds can be contagious, comm students are aware that emotions are contagious as well. Emotional contagion–the act of catching another’s emotions–comes into play with complaining as well. When you complain it easily brings your friends down as well. Bradberry compares complaining to smoking: “Complaining [is] a lot like smoking–you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects.”
The first time I went to Frederik Meijer Gardens was years ago as a family trip designed to honor my mother on Mother’s day. For whatever reason, all six kids were determined to have the worst time of it ever. We complained and whined until it nearly drove my parents insane. Looking back I see how that attitude completely ruined my mom’s celebration and also fed more grouchiness. I still have bitterness toward Frederik Meijer Gardens to this day and because some of us decided to complain, nobody could have a good time.
Bad for your relationship with God
The third, and most significant, reason complaining is dangerous is because it’s bad for your relationship with God. As evidenced in the introduction, complaining is dissing God’s creation and gifts. It’s very true that the world is broken so obviously not everything on earth is good nor is life on earth what God wants it to be. But, even in the brokenness, God has given us gifts and when we complain, we completely ignore those gifts. We whine about homework, but we forget that we are lucky to be in the 7% of people nationwide who can even get to go college (100 People, 2016). We gripe about the cafeteria food, but we forget that 815 million people in the world are going hungry (UN World Food Programme, 2017). That’s considerably more people going to bed hungry each night than double the entire population of the US and Canada combined. Students on Cornerstone’s campus moan about having to walk the long way around the construction to get to the library, but we never thank God for working legs in the first place.
Not only are disrespecting God when we complain, we are actually called–it is our duty–to be joyful. We are instructed to be positive. The New living translation of Phillipians 2:14 says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:16 states it very simply: “Be joyful always.” Our God is the God of love, peace, and hope. Why would we not be joyful? Why would we complain when we have an unimaginably bright future in God’s presence waiting for us?
So. Stop complaining. Stop. And start being on the lookout for what you are grateful for. If today stinks it’s because you are letting it stink. Complaining is bad for you, it rewires your brain toward negativity and adds stress, it’s bad for your friends, and it’s bad for your relationship with God.
Guys. This isn’t an innocent past time. Take this seriously.
Stop making life harder than it has to be!