Something is always wrong. When one problem is solved, a new one sprouts up from the ground. Like a weed. Or a sand crab. But what’s wrong with weeds and crabs? Dandelions are weeds. They’re beautiful. Sand crabs are harmless and are fun to watch scurry around. There’s nothing wrong with either of them. It’s just the complainers in us wanting to find something to fix. It’s entirely natural. However, rarely do we consider the value our complaints represent.
Often, the more extreme your complaint, the greater is your comfort in life. Consider someone who complains that their hotel suite doesn’t have the right kind of ice. Now consider someone who complains that their motel sink keeps dripping water. On the complaint scale, they are both maxed out. Yet one’s circumstances are clearly different than another’s.
Instead of getting bogged down in a sea of fault-finding, recognize that the myriad things you find outrageous actually prove just how wonderful your life is.
Hold the mayo
Exhausted, disheveled, literally starving, you walk into a restaurant. You’ve been lost in the wilderness for who knows how long. At least a month, maybe longer. Finally having escaped the wild, you stumble into the first place that has food. You don’t politely place your name in with the host. You don’t patiently wait for your table to be prepared. Instead, you hobble in, past the masses sitting around, walk straight into the kitchen, and say, “I need food!”
You don’t ask to see a menu. Nor do you inquire about their vegan options. Or if they can put the dressing on the side. Rather, as soon as you finish your pronouncement, you spot a nearby plate. It’s filled with meats and cheeses and greens and breads. You grab it and dig in. “I’ll pay for this,” you say with a full mouth of food.
When times are tough, you don’t have the luxury of choosing what to eat.
No leg to stand on
In The Untethered Soul, author Michael A. Singer drives home the idea that you aren’t your thoughts or emotions. They are what’s in front of you, but they aren’t you. You are the observer of these things. And being the observer, you can choose to let them go. Anger, sadness, joy, these are all just feelings that pass through you. Feelings that fade and are replaced by new feelings. Singer argues that no matter where you are in life, you can let go. You can make peace with your current circumstances. You can release hope, fear, love, despair. Instead, you can just be where you are. You can just let life flow through you.
I disagree. I’ve been in unhappy friendships. I’ve worked many jobs I loathed. No amount of observing would make me feel better. No amount of watching would make me feel fine with moving back in with my parents, employed for a company I couldn’t stand, feeling stuck and like a failure. Only changing my actual circumstances would do that.
What Singer suggests is powerful. However, it really only works when you have the luxury of fulfillment at your back. When times are great, you can afford to watch your feelings, let them pass, and in turn become clear-headed. Because your clear-head will only see wonderful things. But that’s not the case when all that you’ve worked so hard for has crashed all around you.
When times are tough, you don’t have the luxury of fulfillment to hold you up.
As I walked along the path, the silhouette of the mountains stood before me. The sun had just started to shine. Fog still dotted its base, making its towering peaks and valleys all the more impressive. I thought of how beautiful a sight it was. I thought of how far I had come. Of all the things I was grateful for. There was a time not terribly long ago that hiking by myself was less than ideal.
It was a period where my mental health was in shambles. Anxiety and paranoia tailed me constantly. I was filled with loneliness, angst, hopelessness. A clear-head was the last thing I wanted. The clearer my mind, the larger the worries came to fill it. My only reprieve was when I was with others. Particularly, people who could get me out of my head and into reality, if only for a few moments. I didn’t have the luxury of going with the flow. Of letting life guide me as it wished. I needed to control as much as possible. Otherwise, I would lose myself to the madness.
When times are tough, you don’t have the luxury of serenity.
Moving forward with complaints
A good friend of mine, Andrew, deserves the credit for the concept behind this article. He is the one who initially explained it to me, though in different words. Regardless, I’ve since noticed his message everywhere. Whenever someone complains, throws a tantrum, or pouts over some philosophical issue, I think: They are only able to grumble over these things because times are so good. Take that same person and put them in a situation without shelter. Their concern over which economic structure is best will immediately disappear.
So see your ability to complain as a sign that your life is amazing. You have money in the bank, food in the pantry, people who love you. You have the ability to think, debate, and question.
We all have feelings of discontent within us. It’s what drives us forward. It’s what pushes us to progress. But every once in a while, look up. Notice what it is you are so dissatisfied about. Take a moment to appreciate that your life is in such an amazing place that you are able to complain, nit-pick, and argue over such matters. Before you shout a rebuttal or shoot off an angry email, remind yourself how lucky you are. Look out the window, to the beautiful plants, the clear sky, the warm sun. Glance up to the roof over your head. Look at the picture on your desk. The one with your family on vacation.
Remind yourself of all you have to be grateful for. Do this every day. You will find things are pretty good after all.