(The present post appears at a tragic moment. The recent terror attack in Barcelona makes me feel strange to propose the post that says we should not complain. Please, read below in Appendix, my short reflection on this as a sort of explanation)
We all know some people for whom complaining and lamenting give a sense of relief and satisfaction. You know, some members of your family or a neighbour visiting you from time to time just to complain about her misfortunes – real or imaginary. It’s not so easy to detect if complaining is related to frustration or rather to giving vent to emotions in such a way that the mood is better afterwards (the mood of the one who complains, not of the listeners obviously). Do we really need to complain so much? Is complaining really related to real misfortunes that we face? Or perhaps, complaining should be interpreted as inability to cope with issues, hence a manifestation of incompetence? But incompetence of what? of dealing with external things or of dealing with your internal approach to these things? In other words: to complain or not to complain?
To complain or not to complain? – A pragmatist option
From the viewpoint of the pragmatist philosophy, the most important thing in your actions is to be effective in finalizing your aims. From this point of view, complaining can be seen as more or less open confirmation of your inability to cope with external things, your inability to finalize your aims successfully. Complaining, then, means you are a loser rather than you’re a victim of some injustice; if you can’t do something in this way, try to do it in another way, and at least trying can be the source of your feeling good because your success here is your never-ending energy and things you learn during all this process. So, the answer to the question ‘to complain or not to complain’ is: NOT to.
To complain or not to complain? – A Stoic option
From the viewpoint of the Stoic philosophy, the most important thing for you is to be independent and immune from external troubles. External troubles are caused by things you have hardly any influence on. So, the main task for you to protect yourself against complaining about issues you cannot control or achieve is to do is the internal work to overcome your wishes, desires, and needs that cannot be realized, because that’s why you complain. So, convert your unrealizable wishes and unnecessary needs into such that are realizable and dependable only on you yourself, so as to always be free from the danger of incompletion and frustration….and complaining. Obviously, the answer to the question ‘to complain or not to complain’ should be: not to.
To complain or not to complain? – A Stoic pragmatism option
Is it possible to merge these two options, at least in some contexts? Yes, sure, under some conditions. A more careful attention to what is accessible for us to do without too much-unjustified expectation as to the result would be one of these conditions. I mean, start your activity, carefully, even don’t worry about the possible failures unless you’re sure these failures will not make you disappointed. Why not disappointed? Well, another condition and complimentary would be having the pleasure and a sense of meaning while performing our effort – at the end successful or not. You can try to make a change in the world around you and, at the same time, be deprived of the sense of frustration since everything you do is meaningful each and every moment to you. Just an example of the stoic pragmatism option, that also answers to the question ‘to complain or not to complain’ saying: not to.
So the answer to the question: ‘to complain or not to complain’ is: not to complain! Not only will you avoid being toxic for many listeners but, much more importantly, you will feel that you better administer your affairs in the social world by avoiding frustration (if we agree that complaining comes from frustration and discomfort) and, instead, getting positive emotions and creative thoughts.
If you want to hear more, please, listen to my podcast on happiness here
There is a practical sort of research into the question: to complain or not to complain? Invite some of your friends for a dinner or whatever. Choose especially regular complainers. Don’t tell them you’re watching them and listening to them as if a researcher. Just for your purposes, listen to them and try to memorize why they complain. Group them (in your head) into separate categories (e.g. failure, passiveness, inability to cope with issues, complaining to get into a closer contact with the interlocutor, habitual complaining without much sense, etc.) and think if they can teach you unawares (yes: teach you!) what NOT to do in order to convert yourself into a complainer.
APPENDIX (on terror in Barcelona)
How to cope with, on the one hand, promoting happy life and telling others how to not complain and, on the other hand, with such atrocities as the recent terror attack in Barcelona? You can’t be an optimist in such moments; you can’t ignore such contexts and go on saying: don’t complain. Indeed, I am not an optimist in such moments and I don’t tell people “don’t complain” in such situations. But these are moments. Moments that have, and must have a limited time of duration. It’s the time for condolences, for being sad, for help, if you can help anybody hurt or in pain. But soon after, there is the time to know that there is a big difference between civilization and barbarity; between the decent life and the criminal life. The former must not surrender only because the latter is attacking. Let’s promote the former and let’s see good sides of it; let’s turn our back to the latter. I will do this, and this is my personal optimism after all.
I have a 25 year-long professional experience. It’s mostly as a university professor, but also includes coaching, consulting, and teaching. 35 years of karate as a hobby and the best way of learning self-discipline.