Standing in line at the grocery store, an average conversation strikes up between you and the total stranger standing behind you. "Times are sure tough," he says. You nod your head agreeably as he mutters something about the economy, jobless rate and the price of gas. "Another Great Depression is around the corner if you ask me," he says all the while you are glancing at the headlines on the tabloids staring at you. "Yep, times just like our parents had during the Great Depression," he says, beginning to annoy you a bit. The guy had to be in his 30s, and you knew good and well his folks probably grew up in the 1960s, not during the Great Depression. Humoring him you nod and smile, nod and smile.
If the above scenario seems familiar to you, that is because it seems to be vogue to gripe, complain and whine about the economy, politics and the recession. The weather gets a break these days as it has taken second place for the "whine-fest" (no pun intended) that the economy has created.
In his new book, "A Complain Free World," minister Will Bowen explains his theory that complaining only exacerbates problems, individually and collectively.
"When we complain, we are using our words to focus on things that are not as we would like," he writes. "Our thoughts create our lives, and our words indicate what we are thinking. It is vital that we control our minds in order to re-create our lives." Sounds like a Biblical principle to me: think on that which is "good, just, honest and lovely."
By Bowen's logic, we need to become aware of what comes out of our mouths. Once you notice a complaint, you'll start to notice your negative thoughts and can learn to reframe them with more positive ones. Then, you will become happier and more content.
Most do not see complaining as a problem, but rather a glue that holds mankind together, just like the proverbial complainer in the grocery store line, and most places we frequent. I mean, if we do not complain, what on earth are we going to talk about?
Bowen even suggests wearing one of the ever-popular rubber bracelets on your wrist, and when you hear your mouth voice a complaint, you move it to the other wrist. Kind of a symbolic change of action inwhich your mind takes note ... change. When the author began this journey, he switched the bracelet so many times his hands got tired. But a few month later, he'd achieved his goal of going 21 consecutive days without complaining.
How many of us could go 21 minutes? I heard of one woman who decided to give this change a try and even offered her kids $100 to enlist with her, with the catch that they lost $1 every time they complained. Any mom knows most kids would be broke by day's end. A common cliche around our house when someone is whining is, "do you want cheese with that 'whine'?" Or better yet, my three kids will hear my voice reverberate long after I am gone with "complaining overwhelms your spirit" - a Bible verse I took seriously long ago, but have yet to use as a sieve for every word that comes out of my own mouth.
Then there was the one used when the kids were little: "I do not hear your whining voice." I would pretend as if I did not hear their "finger-nails on the chalkboard" whine that was projecting out of their mouths. I listened only when they spoke normally. I must admit, I've heard a few times throughout the years, "Mom, we're not allowed to whine, so why are you?" We all know too, that the ol' "do as I say and not as I do" is hogwash and does not hold water in any given circumstance. Therefore, adults must take the initiative for change if the younger generation is going to learn how to be happier, more carefree and optimistic.
The truth is we can be optimistic and realistic at the same time. Times are tough and folks are hurting, but no one likes to be around a sour and critical person. Experts say it takes at least three weeks (21 days) to change a habit. If you decide to take the "whine free" challenge, I must warn you, there will be times in which you just do not talk. Another one of my "momisms" is "if you can't say something nice, (say it with me here) don't say anything at all."
However, there is also the research that shows that venting is a necessary evil we must all participate in for our mental health. I do agree, to a point, that venting is a necessary coping mechanism for us all. We need each other. There are times when talking about our problems bring us relief and allow someone else to share our burdens. Rather, it is the constant ruminating over our troubles that defeat us, discourage others and keep us in turmoil.
Balance is the key in the fight against "complaining" and "venting" cycle. Bowen contends that "jabbering doesn't improve our time with loved ones, it makes it less precious. Silence allows you to reflect and to carefully select your words ... rather than allowing your discomfort to cause you to spout off a laundry list of grievances." On the other hand, "stating a factual complaint about bad behavior in a spouse, child, or friend, establishes the rules of acceptable behavior," says one Schlesinger.
Sometimes keeping your mouth closed might make another person happier, but it can ruminate within you and come out in angry outbursts or even depression later. For many, depression is just anger turned inward.
I realize this is a tightrope balance inwhich we watch our words and stop the never ending cycle the continual dripping of complaints all the while "speaking the truth in love" says the scripture. One author says "Airing grievances is far healthier than swallowing them. That said, if all you do is wallow, you're operating from a powerless, helpless position. The ideal strategy is to state your complaint, get it out quickly, and then think about solutions. If the problem has no solution, like a traffic ticket, just call it one of life's bummers and move on."
Between the wallowing and the swallowing there is a middle ground. And that's where I hope you find me. That is, if this weather ever straightens up and stops this endless dripping of rain, rain and more rain.
Kimberly Short Wolfe, MA, is the grief counselor/bereavement coordinator for Mountain Hospice and is also a home school mom. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 304-823-3922, ext. 136.