To moan or not to moan … very little unites people as much as a good moan. Before instant access to millions of other moaners via social media, the odd whinge about the weather was mostly confined to a brief chat while shopping or standing in line at the post office.
But now, we have more contact than ever with things worth complaining about.
We are no longer confined to floods and corruption in our own neighbourhoods; we’re able to kvetch about hurricanes in Mexico and droughts in Sydney, or political malarkey on the American election stage.
For some reason, our global addiction to information has fuelled us in the wrong direction – I can count on one hand the number of happy items I read or see, but lost count ages ago of the gripes so freely available nowadays.
I have yet to meet a friend or foe who is immune to negativity, but I have always been curious about a theory that goes like this: the more you do something, the easier it becomes to do it.
Also, the more you do something, the stronger you become in that particular area.
We understand this simple equation in terms of intellect and exercise.
If I study well for a test, I am likely to pass it; if I commit to a couch-to-5km walk/run challenge for a month, I will grow muscle and trim fat.
Research clearly shows that this theory has no limits. It can be applied to anything – including a culture of complaining.
We might think, though, that it’s easier to stop complaining than it is to build muscle and lose centimetres, but we’re mistaken; the mind is one of the most infuriating, rebellious and hard-to-train bits of human anatomy.
An American journalist recently recorded her epic wrestle with a mind in revolt as she embarked on an experimental project: she would not complain (about anything – not even the tiniest glimmer of a groan) for one day.
Her motivation was literary guru Maya Angelou’s pearl of wisdom: “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
What she discovered – and what you probably will, should you try this – is how little people enjoy your refusal to engage in a mutual kvetch. The reason? Evolution dictates that we are hard-wired to identify potential danger and threats to our survival, which means that pointing out the negative could save our lives.
However, we’ve taken this survival mechanism to ridiculous levels; being caught in a perfectly well-ordered, though annoying, traffic jam, will not result in bodily harm. It will simply make us late.
There is much to say about mending our minds – and all, or at least most of it, is backed by science (a nod to cynics who dismiss anything positive as airy-fairy pop psychology). But perhaps it’s enough to start small – with one hour of no complaints.
At the very least, count the number of times you complain in one hour, one morning, one day.
You’ll be sick of yourself by lunch-time – and that’s a good thing.