October is a month to be thankful for so many things . . .

Being thankful is definitely the right attitude, but is there anyone out there who feels more like complaining at times than being thankful?

For example, on a recent trip to Calgary, a truck suddenly pulled out to pass an on-coming car by squeezing in-between the car on my left and myself. The truck missed our vehicles by mere centimeters. There was no time to pull over since the truck literally pulled out at the very last minute. I was shocked, furious, and somewhat frightened. Why would anyone risk so many lives to save a few seconds on the highway? Feeling terrified and angry, I called a friend to complain. I felt entitled to complain – the move was ridiculously stupid – why shouldn’t I complain? Has anyone else experienced something like this?

I am sure that most people would agree that life just isn’t fair. Drivers cut us off, coaches do not always choose the best player for the award, and bosses show favouritism. On top of the daily frustrations, we all have personal struggles that do not seem fair. There are times when we find ourselves swimming against currents that we did not choose or anticipate. So why not complain?

When I was working on my thesis a few years ago, I actually searched for academic articles regarding complaining, and I was surprised with the results! I found articles about how to complain (so you get results), where people can complain, why we should complain, and why we have a right to complain. Complaining is not only commonplace in our Western culture; it is often viewed as useful. We are reminded that ‘the greasy wheel gets the grease.’ Contrary to my ideas about not complaining, not complaining was viewed as a sign of weakness in the journals I was reading. We tend to respect the man or woman who stands up and speaks their mind. Perhaps complaining is good?

Before continuing, I would like to mention that some complaints are laments more than complaints; they are cries for help. Lamentations are a reflection of suffering, fear, confusion, and brokenness, so lamenting has its place in healing. But even lamentations have healthy boundaries. If we refuse to let go of our laments, they will always be shackles on our heart, and we will remain in bondage to the experiences that have broken or wounded us. We simply cannot pick up something new if our hands are holding onto the past with clenched fists.

So what about complaining? Our culture has a place for it, but is it good for us? Do you feel better when you complain or guilty? Does it make you happier or more downcast? Should we complain?

Now – more than ever – we seem to be bombarded by things to complain about. The media is saturated with stories of unpredictable weather patterns, a declining economy, and political scandals. The good news is that – although we cannot change these events, we can choose how we will respond. We can choose to be thankful and focus on the good that is all around us.

In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is in October, and it is one of my favourite days of the year. There are a lot of things that each of us can complain about, but if we are honest with ourselves, most of us have way more to be thankful for than to complain about. Besides – being thankful is actually very good for our health.

Thankfulness promotes healthier relationships; relationships thrive when people demonstrate their gratitude towards one another. Who would you rather hang out with: someone who complains about you all of the time, or someone who is continually showing their gratitude towards you?

But thankfulness is even more important than fostering healthy relationships. Being thankful is really good for YOU! When you have a thankful heart and attitude, you are more likely to be healthy – physically and emotionally.[1] Dr. Robert Emmons, a renowned expert on gratitude, has shown how being thankful promotes better sleep, healthier blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. From an emotional standpoint, being thankful can reduce “the lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance-abuse disorders, and it is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”[2] Put another way, thankfulness works against negative emotions that are contrary to our desire for happiness; it is extremely good for us!

Another great thing about thankfulness is that it is free! Being thankful is a choice, but in all fairness – there are a lot of people who tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full. If you are one of these people, how can you move from a tendency to complain to one of gratitude?

One place to start is by making a decision to choose thankfulness over complaining. Put a post-a-note on the coffee maker or the mirror in the bathroom to remind yourself to look for things to be thankful for. Do some research about things to be thankful for, or make lists of the things that you appreciate. Find three new things to be thankful for each day. Be intentional about showing gratitude and resist complaining. When you feel like complaining, try to reframe the situation in order to find something positive. Life is too good to be focusing on what is not right when there are so many things around us that are good and just!

Below are the first ten things on my list. Have fun making yours!

I am thankful for:

  1. A safe trip to Calgary and back
  2. Family and friends
  3. A comfy bed
  4. Toes and fingers
  5. Running water
  6. The intense blue skies in October
  7. An oven that works
  8. Coffee
  9. Affordable gas prices
  10. Warm weather and snow that has melted!

Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] See: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html
[2] Hart, J. (2013). Practicing gratitude linked to better health: A discussion with Robert Emmons, PhD. Alternative & Complementary Therapies (19)6, 323-325.

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