Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.

Can You Stop Complaining? (Seriously)


Years ago, one of my closest friends, a former cheerleader, called me to announce that she was going to stop complaining for a month. “That’s great,” I responded. “But maybe try 24 hours first and see how it goes.” We laughed. But she did pretty well. To this day, she always leads with the good and looks on the bright side when it comes to the bad. I adore her.

Other friends are the opposite. They lead with the negative — and stay there. I adore them too, but can only tolerate this up to a point. It’s not that I don’t understand hard times, depression, job/partner/life/money dissatisfaction. I DO. But once I feel a person has sufficiently vented (30 minutes is about all I can handle), the “fixer” in me starts suggesting things they could be doing to alleviate their situation.

“Have you thought of this or that?” I venture. “Well, no I haven’t actually,” the person responds. With some people, the conversation then moves towards a more positive direction. With others, it quickly veers like it’s avoiding a pothole, then continues in the same direction. Blah blah blah… another 30 minutes go by. This is usually when I hit the speaker button, place the phone down, and start checking my email. Wrong, I know. (Would it be better to abruptly say goodbye?)

Of my least favorite pet peeves (littering, bad driving, ogling, to name a few), chronic complaining is right up there. I don’t mean the kind of complaining that we do with co-workers around the water cooler, or those conversations with our closest confidantes where we get things off our chest and/or ask each other for advice. I also don’t mean the kind of venting people do when they’re grieving, getting divorced, dealing with a new baby or any other major life change.

I mean the kind of chronic complaining people do about situations they could actually change if they wanted to, but don’t.

You know the type I’m talking about. If not, this is how you spot one:

Friend complains to you about something. You listen and empathize.

Friend complains again about the same thing. You feel bad that they’re still dealing with the same issue and offer suggestions that might help.

Friend complains a third and fourth time. You start to wonder if the person considered (or even heard) any of the advice you gave the last time.

When the friend continues complaining about the exact same issue(s),  you realize this person isn’t looking for answers or helpful suggestions – she doesn’t even want to fix her problem(s). She’s a chronic complainer who wants you to listen to how miserable she is (and if you don’t listen, then you’re not a good friend). She is like this because she’s 1) seeking attention, 2) looking for ways to justify her unhappiness, and/or 3) unable to handle other people being happy or doing well (both trigger her internal “miserable” switch).

Of course, to suggest such a thing is preposterous. No one wants to be miserable, right?


I recently overheard a mother tell her daughter on the phone, “The doctors told me I don’t have the kind of cancer that’ll kill me, but come on. We’ll just see.”

(Really? Okay.)

I think some people are uncomfortable with optimism, or don’t feel like they deserve to be happy, or can’t be satisfied with what they have. They always want more/better, and the grass is always greener over there. Or they continue to think of some past period of their life as “the good ole days” when the truth is, they probably complained just as much back then (about other things).

I admit, I’ve had chronic complaining moments myself (it’s not uncommon to disdain in others the same traits we disdain in ourselves). Remember my optimist friend? She would always listen patiently while I rattled on about everything bad in my life. Then she’d give me practical advice and point out the good things too, all of which I appreciated. To this day, I always feel more upbeat after talking with her, even if I was upbeat to begin with.

Another friend and I still complain to each other, but we’ve jokingly nicknamed our bitch marathons “The Depress-offs,” a la a competitive game show. So, we’re actually bitching and laughing at the same time.

In general though, I try to complain less than I used to. Part of this is watching someone die young of a terrible disease and feeling like what the hell do I have to complain about? Also, Kaz would often remind me that the best way out of depression is ACTION, and I follow that advice as much as possible.

At the writing seminar I mentioned in the last post, the instructor said to us, “What if you were to accept your current life and be happy with the way things are right now?” Everyone gasped.

He quickly explained that he didn’t mean giving up on our dreams and aspirations. He meant hitting the pause button on our perpetual moaning, choosing to acknowledge – and be in – the present, and being grateful. We were alive. We were sitting in a room with a bunch of fellow writers and new friends. The sun was shining. We had homes to go back to. We had pets/children/spouses/friends who loved us. We were unique.

We went on with the weekend feeling more positive and energized. Nothing had changed, and yet everything felt different.

At drinks, later that night, someone asked the instructor, “So, what are your dreams? What do you want to do?” He smiled. “I’m doing what I want to do. I’m here with you right now.”

Do you think you could stop complaining? Have you ever tried?

Tree at sunset (photo: @nivaladiva)

Tree at sunset (photo: @nivaladiva)








Author: nivaladiva

Freelance writer and independent filmmaker.

17 thoughts on “Can You Stop Complaining? (Seriously)

  1. Such an excellent post!! I have a friend right NOW who is fitting this description!

    Call you soon to discuss tax issue. 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Great narrative. I’ve actually encountered that the people who have the most, complain the most, and the people who we “view” as having the least, are the happiest.

    A pet peeve of mine is also people who complain and vent but don’t seek to make things better. These people are stuck in neutral. That professor brought up a great point. Looking at what we have and what makes our life great is a wonderful point of view. Often times, people come to this conclusion when it is too late. Life is hard for all of us. But, I am grateful for the things I do have – wonderful friends, my family, a roof over my head, freedom, a job, and the ability and opportunity to achieve the things I want to achieve.

    I’ve found the best way to deal with negativity is to drive those people out of my life. The simplest things make me happy – the sunset, having the windows open on a beautiful day, sharing a laugh with someone, listening to music.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • “Looking at what we have and what makes our life great is a wonderful point of view. Often times, people come to this conclusion when it is too late.” Yes, exactly. It’s the simple things in life.

      Thank you for commenting.

  3. Great post.

    I suspect your experience with Kaz changed you for good. My recent trip to Nicaragua did that for me; when you see a home with glass windows as rare (i.e.glass is a costly luxury) everything looks different. I have very little patience with whiners and stay as far away from them as possible — if you’re not seriously ill or about to be really broke, just get ON with it. We’ve all got shit to deal with and the people I truly admire are not throwing it at others 24/7.

  4. Great post. I think it’s important to be as positive as possible. Sometimes I have to remind myself, but in doing so, I don’t let stay down for too long. Reggie (my dog) helps me be upbeat. He’s always in the moment in a good way. What a joy to be reminded of that.

  5. NIVA!!! What a wonderful post!!! You ARE an inspiration, my dear, sweet friend!!! xoxo

  6. This is a really intriguing idea. I like to think that I don’t complain too often (I’ve been told that I’m an insufferable optimist), but I do wonder if I could cease to complain. Whenever the urge comes up, to just stop for a moment, think about what you’re about to do, and then stop. I like the idea, that nothing negative would leave my mouth, saving itself for only the positive.

    Of course, there’s some harm in never being able to vent, so maybe I’ll just have to choose my complaints very wisely. 🙂

    • There is harm in never venting, I agree. I think that’s unrealistic too. But it’s a pause button, not a hard stop. Perhaps the more we practice, the easier it becomes?

  7. What food for thought…I was just thinking the other day, I love having close friends to complain to ( or vent). It’s like free therapy. But I know what you are getting at. Great to see your posts again! Now I’m going to think about this when I complain! 🙂

  8. I don’t know if I am a born optimist, or if I’ve been training myself for so long that I feel like one. I frustrate the hell out of my daughter, because I notice, and comment on, the bright side of everything.

    Last month, I picked her and her friend up at the airport, after a school trip. They were complaining about the grouchy attitudes of the teacher/chaperones. I casually remarked that having to look after teenagers all day and night was a hell of a responsibility, and it was no wonder they were tense.

    My daughter laughed, looked at her friend, and said “See where I get it from?” They both started laughing.

    It turns out my daughter does the same thing amongst her friends… So I am a proud father. 🙂

    Of course I bitch about the most absurd things. I laugh every time I do, because everything I have to complain about is such a First World problem, it’s comedic.

    Enough of my rambling. 🙂 Great post and it made me grateful just reading it…

    • Yeah, being optimistic and positive isn’t easy. I commend anyone who can look on the bright side of life on a consistent basis. What a great attitude to pass down to your daughter! It will serve her well in life.

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