If you’re like most people, complaining is part of your daily routine. Maybe it’s a habit that starts with your morning commute or the way your boss treats you. When we complain, we usually think of ourselves as victims—of the weather, our jobs, or our relationships. But if you listen closely to what you say about these things that “are so hard,” you can easily start to see how complaining affects your happiness and well-being.

Why do we complain? How does it affect us? What can we do about it? Read on.


5 Reasons for Complaining


In a recent speakers’ association meeting, I met Will Bowen. Will is a professional speaker who is world famous for speaking on complaining.

Will was kind enough to share with me the 5 reasons people complain. They are:

1) Get attention. Despite the fact that complaining begets attention that is negative, it is attention nonetheless and sometimes we crave attention so much from others that we would rather have a negative version of it than none at all.

2) Removing responsibility. This might be used after someone asks you to help out on a task. Your response is along the lines of, “I would love to do that but…[insert complaint].

3) Inspire envy. This is the humble brag that you may hear when people share about their accomplishments followed by a “but…”

4) Power. Complaining can be an attempt to get people on your side. Are you soliciting a “poor you” response?

5) Excuse poor performance. Instead of taking responsibility for what you did wrong, you might justify your actions with a statement such as, “I didn’t do a good job because…”

When you put them all together, these five explanations spell out GRIPE–an appropriate acronym and easy way to recall the various contexts where complaining happens.

Clearly, these behaviors have a negative connotations. What, then, is the effect complaining has on our life?


Complaining makes you (and others) feel bad about your life.


Complaining can make you feel bad about your life. You’re whining about how you don’t like the way things are, and if someone has to listen to that all the time, it’s easy for them to get frustrated and wonder why they’re even listening in the first place. Are they supposed to be in the role of saving you from yourself? Is it their responsibility?

Also, when we complain about something, we often focus on our own situation too much. We don’t take into account how other people might be affected by what we’re complaining about—or whether or not there’s another way of looking at things that would help us see a different perspective (and maybe even figure out what happened).


Complaining is, in fact, bad for your health.


You probably already know that complaining is bad for your happiness, but did you know it’s also bad for your health? “Complaining is a form of verbal stress and like any other form of stress can lead to negative health outcomes,” says Professor Jacqueline Olds, PhD., author of The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century.

Focusing on the negative causes us to feel anxious and tense which can actually cause physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches. “Stress has been linked to depression and anxiety disorders by way of neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine,” explains Olds.

These chemicals play an important role in how our bodies respond to stress so when they don’t work properly, we may experience some side effects like feeling overwhelmed with sadness or anger which could lead someone who used to be optimistic into developing clinical depression (an extreme form).


Complaining can affect how people see you and make you more susceptible to burnout.


People who complain a lot tend to be perceived as negative and ungrateful, which can make them seem like a downer.

A study from the University of California, Santa Barbara found that people who are constantly complaining are seen as less happy than those who never complain, even though the two groups might actually have similar levels of well-being. This is because when someone complains often, it can make them seem like they have low self-esteem, which causes others to feel bad for them and want to help out.

If you are constantly complaining about your job or your family life with friends, this can make people think you’re just not appreciative of what you have in life. Complaining about an issue won’t fix it anyway; instead it will cause other people around you become frustrated with you while also making yourself feel worse overall!


How to Stop Complaining


On the surface, complaining may not look so bad, especially if you’re overwhelmed by your work and are looking for a way to deflect requests to take on more tasks. We might call that a burnout prevention strategy.

Complaining may also shed some light on the fact that you’re dissatisfied with something in the hopes of getting the issue fixed.

Why, then, does complaining get such a bad rap? Why are we complaining about complaining?

I’m not the authority on this subject, Will Bowen is. But after spending over 20 years working with individuals in therapy and coaching, I believe complaining is about those unmet needs. It is a cry for help and yet it is lacking personal power.

What would be much more powerful would be to focus on solving the problem, not complaining about it.

You might believe that if you complain enough and loud enough, someone will come along and fix the issue. You may be looking for someone to take responsibility or make things right, but if there is no action taken then it just becomes another example of not getting what you need.

I believe that the reason we complain is because we are too afraid to share our feelings and needs. We think by complaining, we’ll get something done, but that’s not how it works.

If you want to get something done, then you need to focus on solutions and not just problems.

In the end, complaining is about you. It’s not about the other person or situation. And when you focus on yourself instead of others, you can actually start to make changes that will help improve your life.

Let’s be clear, complaining does have a place in our lives. It can be a way to vent frustration or express displeasure at something. But when you complain without taking any action toward resolving the situation, it quickly becomes an ineffective strategy.




Complaining is something we are often tempted to engage in when we are feeling out of control, powerless, or unhappy. Whatever your unmet needs are, you are better off focusing on a solution than the problem.

What we focus on grows. If you want to lead a life filled with more positivity, spend more time on what’s going well or what you can do to improve your situation rather than on everything that’s not going as well as you would like. You’ll be happier for it. 


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Dr. Sharon Grossman, AKA the Burnout Doc, is a clinically trained psychologist and subject matter expert in burnout and mental health. Associations and Fortune 500 companies hire her to be their closing keynote speaker, to help their members and executives crack the code on burnout, and create custom-tailored solutions for recovery.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Sharon has been helping high achievers who are struggling with anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout go from exhausted to extraordinary by better understanding how their brain works and how they can design and run their programming on purpose to live the kind of life they want to live. She is the author of several books on burnout and mindset and host of the Decode Your Burnout podcast. Through her speaking, training, and coaching, she helps organizations keep their top talent.