They say that there are two types of people: those who see the figurative glass as half empty and others who see it as half full.
I know a gal who sees the wrong amount of water, regardless of whether it’s spilling over or down to the dregs. She sees the glass as chipped, smudged, or simply the wrong shape. If it’s tap water, she wanted sparkling and if you hand her a La Croix she’ll roll her eyes and mutter something about how “fancy we are around these parts.” It’ll definitely be the wrong temperature and wholly unsatisfying and there will be a lot of, “Why, oh Lord, why do these things always happen to me?”
She’s a classic Debby Downer, a chronic complainer that is utterly exhausting to spend time with. What’s worse is the fact that she doesn’t know she’s negative. She genuinely believes it’s the world that’s negative and she’s simply responding in the only objectifiable way.
She’s not alone. Research indicates that most people will complain at least once a minute during a normal conversation. Once. Every. Minute. It’s a social construct that links us, albeit in a negative fashion. While I would consider myself an Olympic-level optimist, I still catch myself complaining every day (mostly about the weather). Weather is universal, so commiserating about all this rain or what this blasted heat is doing to my garden is a shortcut to connecting to others. Like grousing about a delayed flight to the stranger at the airport, it places us on common ground.
But even little complaints quickly become a habit. And every time we grouch, we rewire our brain towards negativity. Our brains love efficiency; they’ll never work harder than they have to. So every time we air our grievances, our neurons branch out toward each other, building links that make it easier to complain in the future. Over time, being offended by life becomes our default setting and damages our hippocampus, the area of our brain responsible for retrieving memories and problem solving. This means we stop looking for solutions to life’s challenges and instead simply moan and whine about them.
And it seems to be getting worse. The Institute of Customer Service (yes, that’s a real thing) reports an eight-fold increase in online complaints since 2014. Since social is intended to be a way for people over the world to connect, it makes sense that many people are using the convenience of their online presence to vent about, well, everything. When people then “like” their posts, it validates their sense that they have been wronged. Even worse, this might cause their friends to engage in “one-upmanship” in the comments section. You think your night was bad? Well, let me tell you about the disastrous date I just returned from!
Misery may love company, but griping is a bad habit that raises our blood pressure and mutes our ability to feel gratitude. This constant dissatisfaction with life is an inside problem, but we are looking for an outside solution. When we don’t find it, we feel victimized and complain even more.
One of my guiding spiritual beliefs is to work towards a mind that is open to everything but not attached to anything. If we are willing to drop our expectations and attachments to the way we think things should be, we open ourselves to seeing how they really are. It’s in this true seeing that we can more easily find what’s right and good about the moment.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
It’s raining? Grab a book and curl up on the couch, no guilt about the lawn that needs mowing. Too hot? What an opportunity to go to the pool or swing by the ice cream parlor. It’s so often in these unexpected moments that we find the most memory-worthy experiences of silliness and beauty and truth. Plus, every time you choose to cheer instead of complain, you rewire your brain to feel more optimistic and cheerful all the time. Life becomes more contented flow and less crushing disappointment.
And that proverbial glass? Who cares if it’s half empty or half full? You can always refill it.