Living In Gratitude: Breaking The Complaining Habit

You can complain because roses have thorns or you can rejoice because thorns have roses. ~Ziggy

Studies have shown that a good majority of us complain once each minute during a conversation. Why do we engage in this behavior so frequently?

Because it feels good. But just because it feels good doesn’t mean it is good for us.

In fact, research shows that complaining is damaging to our health.


Any time we repeat a behavior, it becomes easier and easier. This is true of things that are good for us as well as bad.  Just as paths in a meadow that are traveled frequently become more defined, so do the cognitive pathways that we exercise become more enduring. When we continually complain, our brain rewires itself by building neurological information bridges. As we complain more and more, these bridges become more distinct, resulting in this negative pattern developing into a default behavior.

When we complain, especially when we frequently engage in this behavior, we are harming our brains as well as damaging our health and wellbeing.


Research has revealed that complaining physically reduces the size of our brain’s hippocampus. This area of the brain is vital to intelligent thought and problem solving and is one of the primary zones destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining also signals our body to release the “fight or flight’ stress hormone, cortisol. Designed to assist us in dangerous situations, when our bodies are constantly barraged by this hormone, it raises our blood pressure and blood sugar while impairing our immune system. Over time, complaining makes us more prone to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and our odds of suffering a stroke are greatly increased.

And even if you aren’t a complainer, if you keep company with those who are, their negativity can affect you. Thanks to what is called neuronal mirroring, the human brain innately mimics the moods and energy of others. This ability can make us empathic or, on the flip side, like secondhand smoke, can put us in harm’s way. As humans, we possess an inherent need to be social. When we surround ourselves with people who are chronic complainers, the detrimental effects of this behavior wend their way into our lives, even if we aren’t the ones doing the actual complaining. Because of this, it is important to protect our wellbeing from habitual complainers.

How to put the kybosh on complaining

A complaining tongue reveals an ungrateful heart. ~William Arthur Ward

  1. Nurture gratitude

Whenever we feel like or catch ourselves complaining, pause. Take a deep breath and redirect thoughts to things for which we are grateful. When we focus on gratitude, we reduce stress, including decreasing cortisol levels by 23%!

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change, it change your attitude. ~Unknown

  1. Practice solution-oriented complaining

If we have a valid complaint, instead of simply griping about it, strive to find a solution. These complaints should have a distinct purpose and desired outcome. If they don’t, then we are simply complaining for the sake of it.

But if we do have a valid purpose and desired outcome, start off with a compliment to ensure others are receptive to hearing your issue. Then, provide specifics about the issue at hand, ending on a positive note while communicating a desire to work together to resolve the situation.

For example, if we encountered poor customer service at our favorite coffee shop, solution-oriented complaining would look something like this:

I look forward to coming here every day before work for my café latte. I usually am greeted warmly and receive excellent customer service but today, I was treated poorly. I was overcharged, and my drink order was lost. I‘m sure this must’ve been an oversight but I would really appreciate an apology/free drink since I have been a loyal customer for three years.”

Though it may seem insignificant, complaining is bad for us. It’s bad for our brain, our immune system, and for our relationships. Repave those neutral bridges by redirecting negative thoughts to solution-oriented complaining and by cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

May your day be filled with gratitude and good things.


Article excerpt from Entrepreneur Magazine.