How to Be a Better Complainer

There’s a lot to gripe about. Here’s how to complain more productively.

Michael Thompson
Forge
Published in
4 min readSep 10, 2020

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A woman complains to her boyfriend while watching a movie on a laptop.
Photo: FluxFactory/E+/Getty Images

A while back, when in-person gatherings were still a thing, my wife and I were hanging out with a couple we hadn’t seen in a while. When we said our goodbyes, I immediately began grumbling about how much they complained about everything.

My wife just looked at me in confusion. “Are you listening to yourself?” she asked.

Oh.

The average person complains between 15 to 30 times a day, according to Will Bowen, the author of The Complaint-Free World. Complaining is normal — we’re emotional creatures, and especially these days, the world seems to be giving us a lot to complain about. Some research that suggests complaining can actually be a useful tool for bonding with others and processing emotions.

Still, it’s easy to get into the habit of constantly complaining, emitting negativity, and falling into a trap of always seeing the worst. While I’ll always have gripes, I’ve learned to complain in a more productive way with these five steps.

Track your complaints for a day

Just as tracking the number of times we check our phones can jolt us into becoming more self-disciplined about mindless scrolling, we can reel in our complaining by paying attention to when we do it. Try it for a day: First, estimate how many times you think you complain. Then, starting from the moment you wake, list every complaint you utter in a small notebook. Simply being more conscious of how much you complain can help you limit the habit.

Categorize your complaints

According to psychologist Robert Biswas-Diener, the author of The Courage Quotient and Happiness, there are three types of complaints. Knowing which category yours fall into can help you to complain more mindfully and strategically.

Chronic complaints: These are persistent complaints by people who never seem to be satisfied. Chronic complainers “have a tendency to ruminate on problems and to focus on setbacks over progress,” Biswas-Diener writes. An example might be nonstop complaints about a job by someone who’s doing nothing to improve the situation.

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Michael Thompson
Forge
Writer for

Co-creator of two cool kids • Storytelling Coach •.Fast Co., Insider, Forbes • Free storytelling guide here: https://bit.ly/3h1KZeT