Maybe it is because Christmas is this week , or maybe it is the bitter cold, but I have noticed a whole lot of complaining in the past few days. It seems everyone is quite unhappy though it is generally about little things. Complaints over a few dollars of price increases or things being different for Christmas than years past, traffic, weather, you name it. I heard more of it this morning when I got into work, which got me thinking, “Can we choose to be happy?” Now don’t get me wrong, no one chooses depression or any other mental disorder, but I am talking more on a day to day level of choosing to “not sweat the small stuff.”
I remember I had this theory through graduate school that people complained mainly for something to talk about, in a way of connecting to others and making conversation. I figured the mentality that “misery loves company” was generally true. I noticed within myself that when people would ask how I was, I would say, “Tired” and go into some story about working long hours, along with the stresses of graduate school, etc. I remember one day thinking, “I am so negative! I don’t want to be the person who is always complaining!” Being aware of this, I tried to do this less. I’m sure I still complain plenty, as I think we are all guilty of this, but I think that over time, I have at least gotten out of the habit of complaining for the sake of complaining or for making conversation.
Think about those people who just seem unhappy, angry, or just “grumbly” all the time. Their energy is not something we necessarily want to be around. Rather, those we know who don’t seem to take life too seriously and find humor in things rather than misery seem to attract our attention or make us want to spend more time in their presence. There is something to accepting things as they are and choosing to be in a good mood because it is more pleasurable to be happy than not. In the world of Psychology, we call it Radical Acceptance, which means quite what you might expect: Accepting that in which we cannot change and moving on.
This is something that really takes practice and that I have to remind myself of all the time. Choosing to be in a good mood sometimes multiple times per day, or when it is the absolute hardest can actually change the state of our day and the energy that surrounds us. There was a day this summer that my kids were throwing tantrums and my husband was at his wit’s end while trying to get ready to leave the house for his company picnic. I decided that I was going to smile, be happy, have a happy tone of voice, and do whatever it took to change the course of the day. It took about 15 minutes of them looking at me like I was nuts, as I was suddenly chipper and smiling, despite the general circumstance. But do you know that it actually worked?! Somehow the kids got calmer and my husband relaxed and we actually had a pleasant hour-long drive and a fun day. I don’t know if this will work every time, but I do know that by complaining and giving into being angry or upset, things are unlikely to take a turn for the better.
During the holidays over the next few weeks I’m hoping to remember this idea. I will set an intention to go into every day positively, smile more often, and remember not to sweat the small stuff. Someday I want to look back and remember the holidays fondly and even more importantly, I hope to waste less time complaining and spend more time finding the good in the day and enjoying the present moment.