Gratitude > complaints

Appreciate what you have. Such a simple lesson, yet one so hard to live by. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the wants and desires and lose sight of what is already in front of you. As the stoic philosopher, Epictetus once wrote

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

This is as true as ever in our era of instant gratification. But how can you help yourself not to give in to your desires? To not complain about the state of things and crave for what could be? A few years ago, I did the Complaint Free World challenge. It’s straightforward but hard on the verge of impossible. Start a timer. Whenever you catch yourself complaining about anything — reset the timer. Keep doing that until you’ve gone for 21 days straight without complaining. Simple, right?

I can’t remember if I managed to finish the challenge. But I vividly remember how illuminating it was to realize how much I complained. I consider myself solution-oriented, happy, and non-complaining per default. But the first few days of the challenge felt like I voiced complaint after complaint. It was a great reality check!

Since a couple of weeks, I’m trying a similar yet different practice. Whenever I catch myself complaining, I immediately counter it with something that I’m grateful for. Preferably something within the same topic. For example, if I catch myself complaining about the weather, I counter it with something about the weather that I’m grateful for. It’s less daunting than the challenge, and I like how it also makes a difference to other people. When they hear me complain, they’ll hopefully hear me be grateful a moment later.