I’m going to take a break from the cheap blogs (don’t worry, there’s more to come) to write about a topic that’s been on my mind lately. In fact it’s closely related to lifestyle and thus holds significance for frugality. So here it is: I believe we are living in a culture of complaint, or at least a subculture of complaint among my generation, the millenials.
What do I mean? Listen in on the conversation of complaint:
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Not much. How are you?”
“Tired. I’m so friggin’ tired all the time.”
“Yeah, me too. And I have a headache.”
“That sucks. How was your day?”
“Awful. I went to the grocery store and kept getting behind slow people, and then some lady in the parking lot almost hit my car as I was leaving. Then I had to go home and clean and everything was a mess, and my vacuum is a piece of crap. And I forgot to buy pop so now I have to go back.”
“I hate the grocery store. It’s just full of million slow people and food I can’t afford. It’s depressing. And I hate cleaning, too. Everything just gets dirty again soon, anyway. What’s the point?”
Basically the entire content of this conversation is complaint. And sadly, this example is typical of the conversations I hold with others. I enumerate the WASP tragedies of my day in a sarcastic, exaggerated way. But I don’t like it when other people complain about their so-called suffering to me. It seems so negative. Of course when I do the same I’m just making observations about my day.
We complain about cold. The snow. The sun. The rain. The laundry. The traffic. The food. Our pets. Our friends. Our families. Our cars. Our hair. Our bodies. The dentist. (This last one I believe in complaining about, for the record, and don’t plan to stop).
I hear the conversation of complaint among myself, friends, the high school students, and strangers. When you don’t know what to talk to someone about, what do you do? Complain about how much snow there is and how much the local sports team sucks. When you know someone well, what do you do? Unload in great detail every pet peeve and inconvenience that affected you that day.
But complaining isn’t just the content of our conversation; it’s also the substance of much humor, the comedy of complaint. We joke about how big our butts are, how stupid those customer service people are, how evil our professor is. Listen to a comedian like Dane Cook and you’ll have the idea. He has quite a rant about people turning around in his driveway, for example.
I realize that comedy seeks to make light of life’s difficulties, and that’s fine. But so much humor is sarcastic (which I love) and negative (which I am). Is it funny? Often. But is it edifying? Rarely. At least not in the larger context of a culture of complaint, when such humor only further engrains whininess in us. Perhaps it would be just as funny to joke about how great things are, for the novelty of it if nothing else. “I’m so glad there’s three feet of snow in my yard. If there’s a fire I could just jump right out of my window and it’d break my fall!” (Okay, we’ll need to get someone funnier to write the grateful jokes).
Some might say that people just need to vent; there’s nothing wrong with letting out some steam when you’re frustrated. I certainly like to do this. But this culture of complaint coincides with the highest rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and other emotional problems America has ever known. So is venting really helping? I’m not suggesting we keep everything inside, but the excessive complaining practiced by many Americans (including myself) may be seriously contributing to our lack of contentment and emotional stability.
In Calm My Anxious Heart Linda Dillow cites an African missionary’s prescription for contentment. The very first point was, “Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.” (And this from a woman who lived in a place where the temperature could surpass 120 degrees).
That’s amazing! If a woman living in the African bush can be content and live without complaint, why can’t we, the most comfortable people in the world, be less whiny? We can if we want to be. The secret to contentment is gratitude, and to become more grateful I think we need to repent of our whiny, unthankful attitudes.
I complain about nearly everything, but I don’t like how I sound. I so wish I could stop complaining, but that will have to be a work of the Holy Spirit. There’s no way I can change this on my own. I realize this goal could become legalistic, but when approached with an attitude of gratitude, is seems quite useful. As I said, I give myself (and everyone else) a free card to keep complaining about going to the dentist, but I’d like to be more grateful for the provisions and opportunities God’s given me. And I’d like to be more forbearing in difficult, uncomfortable, or inconvenient circumstances.
Expressing gratitude is just one more way we can stand against the world system and its culture of complaint. And in light of eternity it makes a lot of sense.