Complaining Fosters Negativity: It’s Scientific


A white man with dark hair and casual clothes is being angry while talking on the phone standing.

It’s safe to say that complaining is a regular part of one’s day. A typical person complains 15-30 times in 24 hours! While it can be beneficial to air out grievances and start on a more positive path, constant complaining actually leads to brain damage and attracts future negative emotions. So if it is harmful, why do we continue to express negative thoughts?

Complaining is a constant in our lives and it’s difficult to overcome because it acts as an innate reflex. Given that an action takes just over two months to become a habit, it’s no wonder how negativity is a hard cycle to break. It’s likely that it all begins in our childhood environment when we learn that complaining can help in uncomfortable situations. Expressing dissatisfaction is a way to connect with those around us, it acts as a common ground, or as a conversation starter. While complaining is helpful in these circumstances, it also has its downsides. 

Everytime you complain, your brain rewires itself to make it easier for future negative thoughts to arise again. So, complaining invites emotions you were trying to avoid in the first place. Complaining also damages your memory by shrinking the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and learning. This can have long-term effects such as an impaired ability to adapt to new situations. These consequences are not only observed when you’re the one doing the complaining. Being around others who have tendencies to consistently focus on the negative can provoke similar reactions in your own body. 

It’s okay to recognize the everyday injustices experienced on a small scale. However, it’s crucial to quickly move past recognition and either distance yourself from an insignificant frustration or  start brainstorming solutions for more notable concerns. By having a pessimistic outlook, you are limiting yourself as challenges are meant to stimulate growth and equip you with experiences that will be useful in the future. 

A small step towards a more optimistic path is a gratitude journal. By starting your day with a positive affirmation, you are closing yourself off to negative or degrading emotions that can have long-term harmful effects. 

“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.” -Author of The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch. A complaint-free life is a big and difficult project to take on, especially when complaining is such a frequent occurrence in one’s day. But a complaint-free hour is much more approachable. Challenging yourself today by avoiding unnecessary lamentations will have a positive impact. Just try it!