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Why Complaining Is Bad for You... but Might Feel Too Good to Stop

My dad was a master complainer. A king of kvetching. He had a symphony of noises and a palette of winces and scowls to make his annoyance known to all. Dad would never have taken part in a growing fad: purple rubber bracelets carved with the words "A Complaint Free World." Ten million bracelets are supposedly out there in more than 100 countries, although who knows how many are being worn.

Complaint Free World

The bracelet is inspiration for nitpickers, grouches and grumblers to change their ways. For every day you go without complaining, you keep the bracelet on the same wrist. Reach 21 days without switching and you earn a Certificate of Happiness.

Catch a fellow wristband-wearer complaining? Feel free to scold. Then move your own band, of course, and the offender will follow suit.

See also: The Benefits of Optimism

Admittedly, complaining can feel so good, so why stop? Stopping is beneficial for your health, says author and motivational speaker Will Bowen, and it makes you a better person.

As an example, he cites one of his heroes: " Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't stand before thousands in Washington, D.C., and shout, 'Isn't it awful how we're being treated?' No. He shared his dream of a day when all children of all races would play and live together in peace and harmony," Bowen writes. "For you to effect change, paint a bright vivid picture of the problem already solved and share this with as many people as you can."

Translation: Quitcherbellyachin.

Still, Alina Tugend's recent essay on this phenomenon in the New York Times focused on the idea that complaining isn't all bad, and even suggests that complaints plus action can equal necessary change. It got me thinking: Do oldsters complain more than youngsters?

Websites like, and ask "Why do old people complain so much?" and offer answers like "their old they got nothing better to do u no" (yahoo) and "you may die any day and therefore feel you do not have the extra time to suffer fools and situations you would rather avoid, gladly" (wiki.answers). No point complaining about spelling, grammar or tortured logic; we'd have to move our notional bracelet.

On the other hand, studies routinely report that older people are happier. And AARP often offers all sorts of good news for our cohort, like  Sex After 65 Linked to Happiness and Friends, family and good health are key to happiness in later years."No use complainin'" about any of that, as George and Ira Gershwin wrote in Porgy and Bess.

For men like my dad, a son of the Depression, it's no surprise that the world felt like an uncertain and sometimes hostile place. Complaining is what kept him fully engaged, at least until he was 70. That's when he keeled over from a heart attack.

Wait, was I complaining? That's my bond with dad, after all. I love to complain. Perhaps one day gene detectives will find the trait in my DNA. For now, I'll have to decide whether the complaining that made dad's life worthwhile contributed to his early demise.

If that's the case, maybe a bracelet would do me good after all.

Video image courtesy of


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