Here's What Happened When I Gave Up Complaining For A Month

It's really difficult when wine is involved, for starters.

In our monthly series, GIVING UP, newsroom staffers deprive themselves of a beloved habit and track how it went. In February, Deputy Healthy Living Editor Lindsay Holmes, 27, gave up complaining.

Snow: Something I usually whine over.
Snow: Something I usually whine over.

What are you giving up? I attempted to give up complaining for the whole month of February. I tracked it all in a complaining diary and let’s just say it didn’t exactly go as well as I hoped.

What made you decide to give it up? As my friends and family will attest, I can be a little dramatic when it comes to inconvenient or irritating situations. So in an effort to lower my stress (which I’ve had a lot of this year already... oops, does this count as a complaint?) I decided to see what would happen if I cut out the moaning and groaning and opted for productive or positive statements instead.

How did your friends and family react? They were super supportive ― probably because, like I said, I have a tendency to exaggerate or be dramatic. They also weren’t afraid to call me out when I slipped up, too.

Did you do any research before you started? This experiment was actually something I’ve wanted to do ever since I read about Science of Us writer Melissa Dahl’s attempt to quit complaining in 2014. I reread the article before starting my project as a way to get some extra motivation.

Did you slip up? I did. Quite a bit. You don’t realize how often complaining is weaved into your vernacular until you’re tracking it. It was so automatic for me. It was really eye opening when I had to write down every instance, some of which were really, really stupid:

Proof that I was not perfect during this experiment.
Proof that I was not perfect during this experiment.

I think the biggest struggle was tracking how often I lamented about politics or current events, which are obviously very valid reasons to be upset. I wanted to separate my stress over the news cycle from the more mundane or minor instances, but a complaint is still a complaint. That was difficult because no matter how much of a grasp I got on my “habit,” it still felt as though I was ending each day with a complaint logged in my journal.

For anyone else who wants to try this experiment, that’s where I think being proactive can come in. There are simply just some issues you need to air grievances over ― but then you can make moves in order to feel better about them (like donating to a cause you care about or even just having a conversation with someone who disagrees with you).

When did you first feel deprived? Day one. I stayed up late the night before and was super tired the next morning. It was the first thing I talked about when I got to work, according to my diary. Whoops.

Any awkward social encounters? I wouldn’t say it was awkward as much as it was a challenge. Have you ever realized how much complaining helps people bond?

There were many times where my friends and I would go down the rabbit hole of venting about each other’s work and dating problems, especially over drinks. (Pro tip: This experiment is harder when pinot grigio is involved.) I had to actively try not to fall into the trap. Sometimes it worked, other times I couldn’t help myself.

Notice any changes to your mood? For sure. I tend to ruminate on problems, which can really mess with my mental health. I noticed that the less I complained about something, the sooner I felt better and moved away from the negative emotions the problem caused. Go figure, right?

Changes to your productivity? I can’t think of any specific incident but I assume as a whole I was probably more productive. When you’re not wasting your time complaining about the weather or your annoying upstairs neighbors, you free yourself up for better things.

Changes to your relationships? A little bit, perhaps. I’m sure mostly for the better. I’m a notorious venter and so I think, in theory, my lack of complaining yielded to more positive conversations and interactions with my best friends. They even offered some good advice:

This trick, which is adapted from <i>The Power of Habit</i> by Charles Duhigg, actually helped. I ended up breaking my hair tie, though. Like I said, I wasn't perfect.
This trick, which is adapted from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, actually helped. I ended up breaking my hair tie, though. Like I said, I wasn't perfect.

What does an expert say about doing this? Is there any benefit? Research shows that griping about an issue actually makes you angrier. Studies also suggest that venting with a friend can lead to more stress for both you and the other person. In other words, complaining doesn’t help with the problem, it aggravates it. Who am I to argue with science?

Would you do it again? Yes. I can’t promise that I won’t be dramatic every so often about things (sometimes you really just need to vent about literally spilling milk, you know?). But I can say that I will be more aware in the future of trying to have a positive or productive outlook on life’s frustrations.

Ultimately, I learned a super valuable lesson: I may not be able to control what happens in life but I can control how I respond to it. And now I’m keeping that in mind more than ever. That alone made the whole experiment worth it.

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