There I was on a cruise, the wind rushing through my hair, salt air on my skin and a scorching sun setting over the horizon in the Baltic. A live band played reggae beats, I could smell something deliciously garlicky and the only thing I had to do, was decide which evening show to watch.
"Hi love. How was your first day?" A fellow cruiser approached. A stranger with a deceptive smile.
"Lovely thanks, how was yours?"
"Oh it started off bad with that awful breakfast buffet. Never seen so many overcooked dishes in my life, and were you in that ridiculous line to get back on board this afternoon? You'd think they'd be more organised." A shake of the head and an actual, "tut, tut tut."
Hmm. "Well, hopefully your night will get better, see you later." Smile politely. Wave. Depart.
Have you heard of 'resting bitch face'? Unfortunately, I became very good at for the rest of the cruise, learning quickly that the generally acceptable small talk often revolved around complaining.
I was dumbfounded. My thoughts raged. How was it possible to be so over-indulged, as to find flaws in something that's a major first-world privilege? And, how the hell can people be so addicted to complaining, that they do so on a holiday where you don't even have to unpack your bags more than once, you can eat as much and as often as you like and you're escorted around each country without having to do so much as sniff a guidebook?
The thoughts spilled over into text messages to friends at home...until a 'slapping the forehead' moment ensued. I was complaining, about people complaining. What a beautiful reflection to gaze into, in order to learn one of life's most valuable lessons.
Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid of Thoughts
It's amazing how programmed we are to think complaining is normal. After all, there's nothing wrong with venting, in fact, it's extremely healthy at times. However, there's a big difference between releasing pent up anger and unconsciously spreading negative perceptions.
But, it's just so socially acceptable to complain. Welcomed even. As if it keeps us in the state of minor irritation we're accustomed to. It fosters a common ground and makes us feel justified in playing the victim. It brings us together against life's external annoyances. It creates a false sense of righteousness, and with it, a serious addiction.
But, the question is, does whining add to our lives? Does it make us happy? And, if the answer is "no", how do we stop it?
Become Aware of the Power of Thoughts and Words
The only way to break any habit, is to become aware of it. When we act from habit, we're not doing ourselves, or anyone else, any good. Had I not mentally complained about people complaining on the cruise, I might have been aware enough to offer positivity, rather than dismissiveness. I could have flipped the cycle, in my own small way.
I don't see myself as a 'whinger'. I'm one of those people who means it when I say, "I've had an amazing day, thanks," because I generally live in gratitude. Yet, the sneaky little bugger that is the 'complainer', still catches me off guard. That inner-whinging mechanism we have, fostered over the years by parents, media, neighbours, friends and well-meaning strangers, must be caught in the act, squashed and reversed.
Why? Because, on a general basis, we complain because of our attitude, not necessarily in response to reality. At the breakfast buffet on the cruise, I was simply astounded at the choice and giddy with indulgence. In the line to embark the ship, I watched the crew and felt impressed by the efficiency they displayed, in dealing with 20 tour buses arriving at the same time. I saw a different reality, because that's what I chose to look for.
We choose how we perceive our circumstances and if we practice viewing the bigger picture, there's a good chance we'll see something we like. When we do, that pesky whinger remains on a leash. Letting it loose when the occasion calls for it can certainly mean the difference between healthy expression and unhealthy repression, but the key is to check in with ourselves first, to understand why we feel the need.
And, what affect might our complaining have on others?
After all, since we're privileged enough to choose, if the eggs are soggy, simply move on to the next dish.
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