We’ve all been there. Something happens that rubs us the wrong way, and before we know it, we’re venting to anyone who will listen. Maybe it’s a coworker who keeps stealing your lunch from the fridge, or a partner who never takes out the trash. Whatever the issue, complaining can feel like a release valve for our stress and frustration.
But is complaining really such a bad thing? While it’s true that chronic negativity can be harmful to our mental health and relationships, research suggests that there may be some surprising benefits to complaining when done in moderation.
In this article, we’ll explore the science behind why complaining can be good for you, as well as some tips for how to complain effectively without becoming a toxic presence in your own life.
Complaining Can Help You Process Negative Emotions
One of the main reasons we complain is to express our dissatisfaction with a situation. Maybe we’re angry, frustrated, or disappointed, and we need an outlet to release those feelings.
Believe it or not, complaining can actually help us process those negative emotions. According to a study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, when people complained about a frustrating situation, they experienced a decrease in negative affect (that is, their overall mood improved). This effect was even stronger when they felt like their complaints were being heard and validated by others.
Of course, there’s a catch here. If we complain too much, or if we don’t feel like anyone is listening to us, it can actually make our mood worse. But when done in moderation and with the right audience, complaining can be a useful tool for managing stress and regulating our emotions.
Complaining Can Foster Empathy and Social Connection
Another benefit of complaining is that it can help us build empathy and social connection with others. When we share our struggles and frustrations with someone else, it helps us feel less alone and can create a sense of solidarity.
A study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that when people shared negative experiences with each other, it increased their feelings of closeness and intimacy. This effect was even stronger when the person sharing the experience felt like their partner was being empathetic and understanding.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should always complain to others in order to build social connections. If we’re constantly negative and complaining about everything, it’s likely to turn people off and push them away. But when done in moderation and with the right intentions, complaining can help us deepen our relationships and foster a sense of belonging.
Complaining Can Lead to Positive Change
Perhaps the most surprising benefit of complaining is that it can actually lead to positive change. When we complain about something, we’re often expressing a desire for things to be different. We might not like the status quo, and we want to see things improve.
Believe it or not, research suggests that complaining can actually be a catalyst for change. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, when people complained about a situation they felt was unfair, they were more likely to take action to change it. This effect was even stronger when they felt like their complaints were being heard and taken seriously.
Of course, there’s a fine line between complaining in order to effect change and complaining for the sake of complaining. If we’re not actually doing anything to address the problem, then our complaining is likely to fall on deaf ears. But when done with a clear goal in mind, complaining can be a useful tool for advocating for ourselves and our needs.
How to Complain Effectively
So, now that we’ve established that complaining can actually be good for you, how do you complain effectively without becoming a toxic presence in your own life? Here are a few tips:
Choose your audience wisely. Not everyone is equipped to handle our complaints, and some people may not be receptive to our concerns. Think carefully about who you want to share your frustrations with, and consider whether they’re likely to be empathetic and supportive.
Be specific. When we complain, it’s important to be specific about what’s bothering us and why. Simply venting our emotions without any context or explanation can be confusing and unhelpful.
Offer solutions. If we’re complaining about something, it’s likely because we want to see things change. Be prepared to offer suggestions for how the situation could be improved, and be open to feedback and collaboration from others.
Practice gratitude. While it’s important to express our frustrations and complaints, it’s also important to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the good things in our lives. Try to balance your complaints with expressions of appreciation for the people, experiences, and things that bring you joy.
Know when to let go. Sometimes, no matter how much we complain, we’re not going to be able to change a situation. In those cases, it’s important to accept the things we cannot change and focus our energy on what we can control.
In conclusion, complaining doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When done in moderation and with the right intentions, it can be a useful tool for managing stress, building empathy and social connection, and advocating for positive change. Of course, it’s important to be mindful of our complaining habits and make sure we’re not becoming a negative influence on our own lives or those around us. By following these tips and staying aware of our own emotional state, we can complain in a way that is healthy, productive, and even beneficial for our mental health.