What a great time to be a professional complainer. Like myself. And to have written a how-to book about the subject, which will, no doubt, be catapulted to the best seller list due to a recent article in The New York Times.
Nearly 10 years into my third-act career and I have finally been validated. Rather than making one feel like a pariah, complaining has now been elevated to a position of social positivity, standing shoulder to shoulder with other acceptable acts such as bathing and coughing into one’s elbow. Besides, to quote from the article, “expressing negative feelings is actually healthy.” And who amongst us does not rejoice in a sense of well-being?
But hold on. Before you jump on the grousing bandwagon, according to the article, there’s a right way and a wrong way to complain. And starting off on the wrong foot will just screw up your efforts and give you something else to complain about. Which may or may not be a bad thing.
When I began writing and kvetching about things like the inequality that exists in choosing select cities for the release of new movies, little did I know that in a parallel universe, social scientists were actually conducting serious investigations into something that came as naturally to me as breathing. And the results were the substance of the article mentioned above.
However, as I read through said article, doubts infiltrated my comfort zone. Was my complaining constructive, or was I merely ruminating and catastrophizing, both of which are serious no-no’s for professional complainers. According to the experts, if you ruminate or catastrophize, you can become depressed. And if you’re feeling hopeless, why bother complaining? So naturally, my aspiration was to be constructive.
Other questions began haunting me as well. For example, how was my complaining impacting others? Was I frustrating my confidantes or bonding with my readers. Perhaps I needed to develop a brief survey to get to the bottom of this. On the other hand, did I really want to know?
Instead of the survey, I turned for advice to the author of a book called “Constructive Wallowing” (wish I had come up with that one!) who reminded me that I was using complaining as a social tool. I’m not sure what that meant exactly, but I did feel a bit of comfort.
I was also relieved to learn that complaining was a powerful stress reliever. And we all know the toll that stress can take, particularly on the express checkout line in the supermarket. So if I vent about the person in front of me who has 17 items in their cart rather than the requisite 12, it could add years to my life.
And speaking of venting, the article states that “when done effectively, it can help you clearly realize what, specifically, about a situation is bothering you.” But sadly, it neglects to provide any criteria for venting effectiveness. If I’m going to spend time and energy blowing off steam, I surely want to get the best result!
Another important lesson gleaned from the article was that the most beneficial type of complaining in terms of your health and relationships, was to be sure it was “strategic.” Again, not being exactly certain about what went into a strategic complaint as opposed to a haphazard one, I surmised that it had something to do with your desired outcome.
For example, is your goal to vent, problem solve, or ruminate? By now, we’ve learned that ruminating can be hazardous to your health, so let’s skip right over that one. Which leaves venting or problem solving. It isn’t clear to me whether you can claim both as a desired outcome. In a perfect world this should definitely be an option. But we know the world is not perfect, which is why we complain in the first place.
So if I follow the guidelines laid out above, my complaining will be productive. But if it’s productive, will I have anything to complain about? Therein lies the conundrum.
So folks, go ahead. Let it all out. It might even lower your cholesterol. And if you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) because you think your life is perfect, consider purchasing a copy of my book, “How To Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About.”
It will provide all the fodder you need for a really hearty professional grumble!
Woman’s Best Friend?
I am crestfallen. Dispirited. Sad. Dejected. Although in the present situation, I prefer crestfallen to the other synonyms since the origin of the word has to do with animals. And my current unhappy mood has everything to do with an animal. And with an article I recently read concerning research into the emotional life of dogs.
It’s no secret that I’m a dog lover. In fact, I’ve devoted several blogs to them. When I first started writing, my husband and I cohabitated with two beautiful Labrador retrievers, Bette and Davis. They were central to my essay about Bagel Sunday, and the inspiration for my first book, How Old Am I in Dog Years? I believe we made them very happy, and they both lived to a ripe old age. I also believed that they loved us.
Fast forward to Sam, the cutest dog in the world. He’s a 17-pound rough coat Russell Terrier, and the first small dog I’ve ever shared my home with. I’ve discovered that having a small dog is a very different kind of experience. First of all, I can lift him. Which I do, frequently. And while he’s in my arms, I plant kisses on his head. And he, in turn, licks me. It’s all very affectionate.
Sam sleeps in our bed. Sam likes to cuddle. Sam follows me around the house. He is independent, but also likes attention, and at those attention-seeking moments, appears jealous if my focus is elsewhere. I am his primary caregiver and he is clearly very attached to me. He even forgives me for giving him sink baths.
I adore Sam, and was convinced the feeling was reciprocal. Until now.
I thought he loved me for who I am. Because he senses that I’m a good person. Because I occasionally feed him table scraps, and take him to the dog park. Because I rub his belly and tickle him under his chin, and tell him he’s a very good dog. And that the love was so unconditional that I am quickly forgiven for occasionally stepping on him when I don’t realize that little Sam is underfoot. I thought our bond was unique and special. That in his dog brain, I was special. Wrong!
The newspaper article I refer to revealed a very inconvenient truth. Yes, my dog loves me. But not because I’m me. He loves me because he can’t help it. It’s built into his canine DNA!
The article claims that dogs have an amazing ability to bond with other species. Raise a dog with humans, and it will bond with humans. But raise a dog with sheep, and it will bond with sheep. Or goats. Or penguins. Or kangaroos. You name it, though it would be painful to snuggle with a porcupine. To quote the article, “dogs have an abnormal willingness to form strong emotional bonds with anything that crosses their path.” Think about it. I could be replaced by a robot had Sam been introduced to a robot when he was still in diapers. Or the dog equivalent thereof.
This new knowledge is most disappointing. It practically ruined the holidays. I almost feel betrayed, although I realize it’s not Sam’s fault. Or the fault of those dogs who preceded Sam upon whom I lavished love and ear scratches.
Now I’m confused. What do I make of it when Sam stares up at me with those big, brown, soulful eyes? Is he penetrating my unique essence, or might I just as readily be an elephant?
Oh, well. Life goes on and humans must be resilient. I wish I could unlearn this new discovery, but I can’t. I can only hope that one day in the near future animal research will prove to be like health research. You know those studies. Last month eggs were a no-no, and caffeine put you 24 hours nearer to end of days. But happily, the research this month tells us that we should eat eggs several times a week, and that coffee gives you an edge when playing “Jeopardy.”
So I shall diligently read the newspaper each day and search for the canine investigations that negate the previous findings. Ideally, the next wave of animal scientists will uncover evidence that dogs are uniquely programmed to bond with humans. Particularly with women in their 70s.
About the Author
Susan is the author of two award-winning collections of humorous personal essays: “How Old Am I in Dog Years?” and “How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About.” Check out her Author Page HERE.