Could moderate complaining be beneficial to health?
Sitting in the hairdresser’s chair I look at the depressing reflection looking back. The bounce I’d requested in my blow dry is reminiscent of a 60’s icon. The shaggy look I was imagining is more ‘dragged through bush backwards’ than ‘just got out of bed sex’.
“Do you like it?”, the hairdresser asks, running her fingers through my mop. I’m assuming she’s doing this to attempt to make it look better. “I love it,” I nod, a forced smile plastered across my face.
I pay the exorbitant amount requested and leave the salon. The minute I’m out of view I tie my hair back.
It’s not the first time I’ve lied about being happy. Simply put, I hate complaining. I don’t want to feel like I’m being ‘that’ person or causing someone else potential upset. I’d rather be unhappy with a service or outcome myself, than dare to speak up.
But should I start complaining a little more? Would it make for a better outcome all round?
Studies have shown that complaining is both good and bad for us. For example, on the downside studies have shown that the negative impacts of complaining can cause irritability, mental exhaustion, low mood and anxiety.
One much referenced study even states that every time you complain, your brain physically rewires itself to make it easier and more likely for that reaction. Subsequently, negative thinking ends up breeding more negative thinking.
However, on the flipside, a study conducted at the University of Oklahoma showed that complaining may positively impact on connectivity.
Researchers found that when two people shared common complaints and a dislike about another person, they bonded quickly.
Another study found that people who complain with purpose, in order to achieve a desired result, rated themselves as happier than those who simply complain for the sake of it.
Marny Lishman is a health and wellbeing psychologist. She tells me that there’s a fine line between releasing your negative emotions in a healthy way, and doing it a little too much without resolving anything.
However, she notes that, if done in the right way, complaining is beneficial.
“Many people struggle to complain, because complaining has negative connotations,” she says. “But complaining is a way of communicating your unhappiness to others, which is healthy because it means you’re not bottling it up.”
“Complaining also helps us bond with other people and it’s important that we talk about the bad parts of our lives, as well as the good.”
When it comes to complaining, Lishman advises trying to explore why we’re unhappy. Ask yourself if there’s a specific reason for it, or if it’s just a general feeling of unhappiness.
“Pinpointing if there’s something or someone that you’re continuing to complain about might give you a bit of an ‘aha’ moment, and lead you into action,” she says.
While this may be unnecessary for more instantaneous complaints, the approach recommended is the same.
“Complain in a constructive way, rather than just expressing a general gripe or whine,” advises Lishman.
“Use an assertive, actionable statement that articulates what the complaint is about and explains how you’re feeling.”
For example, rather than saying ‘I hate my hair,’ you could say “It’s not what I was expecting.” As an actionable statement, you could then suggest a reshape or a different colour.
Complaining in such a way may soften the blow for both recipient and yourself and result in a positive outcome all round.
I’d like to say that I’ve taken this advice on board and will start to be more proactive in expressing my unhappiness with services or outcomes. But knowing me, I probably won’t.
So, if you see me walking around with a shaggy mop like hair ‘do, the chances are I didn’t ask for it. And the chances are that I certainly didn’t complain!
This article was originally published in The Age.
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