Complaining Is My Guilty Pleasure. Should I Quit?

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
It’s cold outside. There’s not enough sauce on your pizza. A promising Hinge match just ghosted you. A telemarketer will not stop calling you. To make matters worse, you have cramps, you’re breaking out from stress, and your parents won't stop fighting. 
If any or all of these things have happened to you, you may have complained to a friend, family member, or maybe even some higher power. For many of us, complaining feels great. I personally didn’t realise just how much I enjoyed a good gripe until my gratitude journal challenged me to go a week without airing my grievances. I made it half a day.
Advertisement
Yep — this is the point in the story where I complain to you about how hard it was to stop complaining. 
Venting feels good. There are valid reasons for this, explains Dr. Deepika Chopra, PsyD, “The Optimism Doctor®️” (yes, she has a trademark!), professional psychologist, and founder of the mindfulness-promoting card deck Things Are Looking Up.
Letting out emotions "in a constructive and mindful way" can be helpful, she says. It’s like a good peer review for your problems. “Sometimes it leads to solutions,” she says. “Sometimes sharing our thoughts or grievances with others helps us feel heard, can repair relationships, and gives us motivation to make changes that are tough to start working on. It can also help us see a different perspective.”
Plus, complaining is easy. Anyone can do it — all you need is a captive listener, whether that’s your partner or 1,000 Facebook friends. 
Another reason people grumble is out of habit. Complaining can be something we start doing in childhood, explains Margot Bastin, a psychologist who studies communication between friends in adolescence as a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven in Belgium.
Although there are experts out there who say complaining is awful for your mental health (on one Psych Pedia blog, they say “complaining is literally killing you”), Bastin says that complaining feels good because it is good — to a point.
Advertisement
"For a short while, it's good to complain because you may need to hear from your friends and let what's troubling you out of your system," she says. "But, if you're constantly worrying about your problems and talking about them all the time, it can be a negative thing."
For example, it’s okay to complain to your besties when you don’t know how to interpret a cryptic text from your ex. But talking about that message for days or weeks can be a problem — both for your mental health and for your friendships. “Research shows that if you're complaining and being negative the whole time, friendships can dissolve,” she says. “Or, it at least can create more stressors in that relationship."
Bastin’s blanket rule is this: “It's not that you can't complain, but it shouldn't be too prolonged or repetitive.”
Chopra adds that when it comes down to it, you should look at how you feel before, during, and after you complain. “Then, you can mindfully judge if it is proving a positive or a negative benefit to you,” she says, adding: “One rule of thumb is, while voicing a complaint, try and see if you can shift focus on to the solution rather than the problem. Perspective is everything.” 
Advertisement

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series