I've been thinking a lot lately about the insidiousness of complaining and how it undermines our happiness. It is cunning and deceiving because we have learned to live with it as normal. It is pervasive and infiltrates every manner of life; it exists in the background of our lives as a constant hum that we don't even realize is there. It often feels good to gripe or complain about something or someone else - it becomes habitual and it will corrupt our every effort toward happiness, peace and joy. It seems harmless, a passing flip comment, a criticism of ourselves and others, a quiet, breeding dissatisfaction about the general nature of things, and yet the damage it wreaks is severe. It is the antithesis of appreciation and while it seems innocent, observational and perhaps even constructive, in its very nature it sets up a chain of effects that suffers our happiness as a consequence.
When we complain, we also give away a great deal of our power to incite change of the very things, in fact, that we are complaining about. I know it sounds like a trite metaphysical tenet, but it's important to understand it because we do it so unconsciously that we don't even realize how much we tolerate. It's a gentle dissatisfaction with which we've become used to. It becomes the tail that is wagging the dog. When asked the simple question, "How are you?" We often answer with a tepid, "Fine." Our knee-jerk dissatisfaction response has kicked in and our brains are running through thoughts of complaints by the nanosecond - we judge our jobs, mates, friends, financial situation, political maelstrom, our neighbors, their dogs and even lament the fact that we don't have enough closet space! It is built into our nature and accepted as status quo within out culture - if we don't criticize it how can we make it better? Again, there's an example of how we live in "opposite world" - you can't get to the solution of a situation from the level of the problem. Remember Einstein's quote? Complaining is even at times considered a personal social grace in our society. We denigrate ourselves lest we come off as arrogant or egotistical.
We must become aware of the underlying hum of dissatisfaction that consistently runs through our lives and surfaces as complaints. Usually, it comes out against another because 'they're always doing it wrong.' Or for the more "spiritually evolved" amongst us, we take full responsibility for creating our lives and turn the fire hose of self-criticism all over ourselves. We've learned to get used to it feeling dissatisfied - we consider it normal - but we must bring it to the forefront of our awareness. Once we become aware of something, we can no longer tolerate it in the same way. Awareness is the first level of healing. Once we become aware of how much room it occupies in our thoughts and consciousness it can never be the same. It has to change one way or the other. When we become aware of the underlying thought patterns that are steering our lives in directions we don't want to go, two things happen. We can no longer perceive ourselves as victims of circumstances, which empowers us to create our lives purposefully; and second, we become aware of our MO and how we operate - it can no longer unconsciously run the show. You can then look in the mirror and say "Ha! I'm on to you!"
I would encourage you this week to focus on how much is going right in your life. Make a list - post it somewhere and read it often. Add to it. There is so much good that happens naturally without our effort from the way the planet runs to the way our bodies work. My heart, circulatory, respiratory, digestive systems all do remarkable and amazing things to create a healthy body. The sun comes up every day and the tides go in and out on our behalf. So much works naturally for our good. If you're reading this and thinking, 'yeah, this is like when my mom used to tell me to finish my dinner because children in Africa are starving.' Just acknowledge that part of your brain, and then give it the day off. Its function is no longer vital to our survival. Martha Beck, author, lecturer and life coach, calls it our "inner lizard." It's that part of the deepest layer of our neural structure that evolved in early vertebrates, like reptiles, that is responsible for survival. It broadcasts the most basic of our survival fears: lack and attack. 'I don't have enough and I am going to die if I don't attack first.' Since we are not threatened on a daily basis by animals that might eat us, we don't need that part of our brain to such a severe extent anymore. It's still there, however, but it is more subtle. It has evolved to become that critical voice that grinds at us telling us we are never good enough. It compares us to everything and everybody and it always leaves us feeling worse. Whether we come out looking better or worse than the person, thing or circumstance we are comparing ourselves to, the result is always separation; separation from others, and separation from our truth. As a teacher of mine used to say, "Compare and despair."
So many of us live with an underlying feeling of anxiety and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. We just know that we're not happy. I would postulate that it is the thought system of dissatisfaction that we've been taught since birth - a thought system that our society also supports and nourishes. Let's become aware of the subtle and not so subtle ways we criticize ourselves and other people. Let's not give it the space in our lives to create the malaise and unhappiness that we've learned to accept as normal. We deserve more. We deserve to be happy.
This week I would encourage you to become more "onto yourself" and catch yourself when your thoughts run amok in obvious and even in subtle, cunning ways. Remember, that critical voice, that tendency to bitch and complain, is insidious. Let's make our knee-jerk response to the question, "How are you?" be "Never better!" - And then let's mean it because it is true. You'll be amazed at how things and circumstances around you will change. I believe the effects of changing our complaining minds are wide in scope. You will be happy to see how so little effort can make such a big difference in our overall well being. Let's be willing to see things differently today. Add grace and appreciation to the recipe and let yourself be delighted by the outcome.
This week I leave you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln who said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."