We all have met people that keep on complaining about anything and everything that happens in their lives. Whether it’s about their new boss or a bad pizza place they visited last weekend, some people just can’t stop whining. And most of the times, they aren’t even looking for a solution, they just want to get your attention. Turns out, even as they keep bothering you, they might be doing themselves a huge favour.
Researchers have foud out that there is a relation between complaining and happiness. Yes, as strange as it may sound, people who complain seem to have some psychological advantages over those who don’t.
According to Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University, “Complaining allows us to achieve desired outcomes such as sympathy and attention, the truth is, everybody does it.” Of course, for it to be effective, complaining has to be done right. Now, what exactly is ‘right complaining’?
Kowalski and her colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Social Psychology, in which they investigated how expressing annoyance is related to happiness and mindfulness. In the study, conducted on 410 male and female college students, they found out that people who complained with an intention of getting a certain result, were generally happier than those who simply did it for the sake of complaining.
Kowalski cites a 2006 study that found that although many factors collectively determine happiness, consciously making efforts towards it is a major factor. And along with things like adopting an optimistic attitude, this also includes regulating your complaints.
“That’s part of the strategic nature of complaining,” Kowalski says. “It’s all about making the best choice, knowing when to complain and to whom.”
But again, not all complaints need to achieve a certain result in order to be beneficial. A very common reason people complain is to get som emotional release. For example, if someone has gone through some trauma in their lives, they tend to feel better if they get to share what they are feeling with someone else, instead of suppressing everything inside.
James Pennebaker is a social psychologist at the University of Texas. He says that when survivors of traumatic events write their feelings out on a page, they go through drastic improvements in their well-being. According to him, writing helps them to coherently organise their experiences, leading to a better understanding of the event and how they can deal with it.
Some people though, complain just to buttress their identities. If someone tells you that the pizzas at the place they went to last weekend were bad, that might lead you to believe that they have pretty high standards. This is a phenomenon psychologists like to call “impression management”.
So next time someone comes to you complaining about things, you know what to do. Bombard them with your own complaints. You never know, that might help you feel better.