Honest Complaining Is Better Than Fake Positivity

by Maria Giuliani
Originally Published: 
Honest Complaining Is Better Than Fake Positivity
Justin Paget/Getty

Normally I try to build up to a particular “moral of the story” when I’m writing a piece, but this time, I think I’m just going to get right to it: Honest complaining is preferable to false positivity. Make sense? I hope so, but if not, come along with me as I explain.

There is a particular mentality that exists out there in the world that we should all just walk around being positive all the time. This idea is that if you are positive, you will attract positivity to your life.

However, there are a few flaws with this logic: First, it assumes your positivity is genuine. Second, it assumes that you can’t complain and be grateful simultaneously, which is incorrect. In fact, being grateful is more fundamentally important than being positive, as gratitude will naturally make space for positivity. Lastly, if your positive attitude leads you to condemn others in their moments of negativity, there’s a good chance you’re doing the whole positivity thing all wrong. Meaning, if you’re grounded in gratitude, you can express empathy, rather than judgment, for others in their time of need.

I’m going to provide you with an example. Let’s say a mom has had a particularly rough day with her little ones. Let’s say she’s feeling a little isolated and alone, and so takes to her internet world to do a little venting. Her expectation, most likely, is that there will be another mom out there in her little community that will hear the venting and respond with, You’re right. Kids can be jerks. Tomorrow will be better.

Or perhaps, in this mom’s imagination, a fellow parent will respond with venting of their own, thus opening up a channel of free expression, each being each other’s mutual venting companion. She imagines that once they get their venting out of their systems, they will sigh with relief and go back to their kids, feeling lighter and better able to handle the challenges of parenthood.

Imagine, then, that rather than being cheered along, she is hit with responses like “Kids are such a blessing” and “Enjoy it while it lasts” and “They grow up too quickly” and “Some people just handle it better than others.” Imagine how these kinds of responses can turn one mom’s bad day into something she cries herself to sleep over that night. These types of responses are not genuine, not empathetic, and not positive, despite being delivered with an air of (passive-aggressive) positivity.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most moms recognize that their kids are a blessing. Most moms go to sleep each night feeling grateful for their children. Most moms are naturally racked with guilt over the bad days and don’t require any exterior assistance when worrying over how they are screwing up their kids. Most moms are simply human. Responding to someone complaining that their two-year-old peed on them on purpose with “You’ll miss it when they’re gone” is kind of akin to telling someone who has had a miscarriage that “Everything happens for a reason.” Like… fuck off.

Essentially, all that is to say:

  1. You can be grateful and still need to vent once in a while.
  2. You can be generally positive and still have bad days. And you’re allowed to say it’s a bad day when it is a bad day. Call it what it is.
  3. Unless you’re my friend Wendy, who is genuinely positive (it is her actual, natural, all-the-time state—probably because she says fuck more than anyone I know), you are likely not a genuinely positive-all-the-time person. And it’s totally A-O.K. You are not calling any bad karma or mojo to yourself by being genuine. Sometimes, we all just have a need to complain. Don’t hide it. It’s better to be honest with yourself.
  4. You don’t always have to look on the bright side of life. In fact, sometimes it’s more useful to face the dark side.
  5. Complaining can help you let go of pent up emotions.
  6. You may get judged for complaining, but you’ll probably get judged no matter what you do, so you may as well go for it.
  7. Not having empathy for someone’s bad day makes you a jerk.
  8. Gratitude is everything — followed closely by authenticity. Don’t mistake either of these for positivity.

Now, I admit that some people are just negative all the time, and they can be a drag to be around. But there is a difference between complaining all day every day about everything from the temperature of your coffee to the brightness of the sun, and letting out some steam because you had a crap day. I think that most of us are able to recognize the difference.

Also, I believe that an honest bout of complaining is often followed by direct action, doing something useful to alleviate the issue that caused you to complain in the first place. All complaint/no action? That’s either someone with too much time on their hands, or someone who is really having a hard time with things. These are people who probably need our kind attention most.

So, moral of the story, don’t be a jerk. A little bit of honest complaining does not a negative person make, and that it’s better than being fake positive.

Live your life authentically. And be grateful every day.

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