How Complaining Kills Happiness

For our honeymoon, Laura and I went on a 10-day Mediterranean cruise.

On the ship, we made friends with another honeymooning couple from Canada and ended up spending quite a bit of time with them, chatting in the cocktail lounge and going on shore excursions together.

We quickly learned that this couple was not easily pleased. They complained about their room; they complained about the food; they complained about the destinations we were visiting in Italy, Spain and France.

At first, it was fun to join in with the complaining. After all, there were things we didn’t like about the cruise, too. We bonded by grumbling.

But after a few days, we started making excuses not to spend time with them. We had grown tired of their complaining. More importantly, we had grown tired of our complaining. We didn’t want to start our life together in a place of negativity.

Similarly, the critical, sometimes cynical, way that journalists need to view the world sometimes got in the way of my happiness when I was in that profession.

“Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get,” conservative US radio host Dennis Prager once said.

Luminita D. Saviuc, creator of, argues that complaining not only arises from a feeling of powerlessness, it also reinforces that same feeling.

Complaining is a dreadful addiction that creates a false sense of separation between you and the world around you. It keeps you from connecting with yourself and the world at a deeper level. It keeps you stuck in a place where outside circumstances seem to always control you and sabotage your happiness, health and well-being.

When I was feeling sick and tired and frustrated in the days leading up to my kidney transplant, I complained. Sometimes, I complained to Laura and the kids.  Always, I complained to myself, a constant track of negativity playing in my head.

I complained back then because I felt powerless. But the negativity likely also reinforced the sense of powerlessness.

Does this mean you should sit back and accept it if teachers, doctors, waiters or sales clerks treat you badly? Not at all.

Saviue’s advice? Don’t complain about things, change them. And if you can’t change them, change your attitude.

As I was writing this post, I glanced down at my bullet journal and saw that one of my to-dos for today is: “Complain to Selvi.” I actually have “complain” as a task I need to complete today.

I’m not sure if this is ironic or hypocritical.

But it’s a reminder that the things I write about here are things I’m working on, not things I have mastered.

The “complaint” on my to do list is about problems with health care services for my son Bryson. So I’m reminding myself that “complain” is the wrong word. What I really need to do for Bryson is to advocate.

In tomorrow’s post, I’m going to write about the difference between complaining and advocating.

But what about you? How does complaining make you feel? What do you do to turn that negative energy into something more constructive?



  1. I have done my share of complaining over the years and it drains energy and leaves me powerless. It’s a sickly feeling like overindulging in too much sugar. Some things just are and acceptance of that is a gift to you and others. Other things can be addressed though thoughful and deliberate action. The trick is to know what’s worth action. I have a photo of a mountain on my screensaver and when staff get into the compaining swirl I point at it and raise my eyebrows. They know that is code for “is that the hill?” and we usually agree that it is not.

  2. This entire post is a great reminder. I do have a question. Why do you have “Complain to Selvi” as a task when the goal of the post seems to be that you are making an effort to not complain at all?

    • While I believe we’re better off if we don’t complain, I still do it. That’s why I asked whether it was hypocritical or just ironic for me to notice that I put “complain” down on my to do list. Now that I’ve recognized it, I’ll try not to do it again.

      • Ha, good call. I think we all do need to complain, actually. A few moments of venting, whether out loud, or on paper can help clear the mental fog that annoyances, large and small can create. Scheduling it in is a brilliant idea.

        Have you heard of Complaint Free World? I did their 21 day challenge 7 or 8 years ago and it was life changing. I felt better about everything. I was more active in changing things that I didn’t like that I had control over.

        Recently, when I had a problem at work that I could not handle, I realized how complaining about that led to me complaining on a regular basis about everything else. As a newlywed, I know that’s not conducive to a positive union, so I am trying it out again. We’ll see.

  3. The description of your cruise companions saddened me. What a marvelous experience they were missing by choosing only to look for what’s wrong. If we spend our lives looking only for what’s wrong, that’s what we become good at, and at the end, we look back and see only what was broken.

  4. I’ve always thought of complaining as junk food…. you know it’s not good for you but sometimes you can’t help it. Especially when there’s a huge bowl right in front of you! But I agree it’s very easy to overindulge and can easily impact other aspects of your life. It’s a choice and one you need to be conscious of.

  5. There is an old saying, fake it until you make it. This can be said for attitude. Also, a positive attitude attracts positive people. I am clearly a glass half full kind of gal. Thanks so much for sharing this outstanding post.

  6. Amazing write up Keith..! I could totally connect with cause I have felt the same. Too much complaining and cribbing, even about small and out of my circle ..was leading to a lot of negativity within me.. I could feel it impacting me…so I decided to distance up myself a bit from them. And yes, that works..!

    Keep writing & Inspiring..!:)

    Loads of Love

  7. What a great attitude. I think sometimes we forget how easy it is to complain and not actually focus on what we can do to change the issue.

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