Opinion: A 3-step guide to complaining correctly

Life sucks sometimes. School is hard. It’s OK to complain about it.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Noah Zaldivar, Contributing Writer

It’s finals season and we all know what that means: everybody is complaining. Just walk through Bobst Library, and you’ll hear the classic “Writing the Essay is killing me!” or “I am so not ready for the psych final.” Finals season is one of the only times of the year when everybody becomes a Nobel Prize-winning complainer, going on and on about how little sleep they got, cross-referencing how much work they have, and not talking about absolutely anything else until Dec. 23. But research shows that complaining — when done right — has a meaningful and valued purpose. This begs the question: are you doing it right?

Yes, complaining can get annoying, and it can force us to unnecessarily dwell on our problems. We’ve all had that one friend who is always mopey, who you’re not sure what to do with because you’ve given them all the standard “feel better” lines and they still haven’t felt better. You should not be complaining absolutely all the time, and you should make sure that when you’re complaining, it is in the most effective way possible.

All professional complainers should ensure that their complaints are effective, necessary and as entertaining as possible. I’ve compiled a list of three rules that complaining should strive to live up to. Above all else, good complaining should be free of mind, it should force us to confront our problems and it should be funny

First and foremost, complaining should help ease our minds of the many burdens of life. Some people call it venting and some call it expression — I just call it complaining. No matter what, the goal should be the same: to make us feel better about the problems that exist in our lives that too often go unacknowledged. Your roommate likes to pee on the toilet seat? Go ahead, complain about it. You’ll feel better. Your RA just busted you for possession of a great deal of alcohol? Whine away. It’s completely unreasonable that she checked the first drawer of your desk anyway. Complaining is helpful because you might get so fired up that you actually do something about whatever is troubling you. 

This is where the second rule comes in. Complaining helps us actualize our problems, and lets us talk through solutions. When you refuse to even acknowledge a problem, all you’re doing is preventing yourself from doing something about it. Complaining is a great, informal segue into problem solving. Trouble at work can go from an unspoken annoyance to another accomplishment if you just have the guts to acknowledge the problem. 

In fairness, complaining willy-nilly about your own miserable life can get old quick. We all know that one person — the one who points at a trash can and proudly proclaims, “Look, it’s me!” We don’t like those people, which is why I came up with the final rule: be funny. 

Jerry Seinfeld, John Mulaney and Chris Rock are some of the most well-known comedians of the present day, and their comedy is all about complaining. No matter what they’re complaining about — reaching middle age, getting no respect from their friends and family, or airplane food — they all complain for a living, and people love it. Obviously, not everybody is made to be a professional standup comedian, but complaining should have a purpose. If you’re dumping your problems on someone, you should at least try to entertain them a bit too.

When you’re frustrated, in a bad mood or just need to vent a little bit, try this. Set up a recorder on your phone. Put in some headphones, pace around your room and go to town. You’re mad at your physics professor? Good, chew him out. History paper due? Yell about how unfair the world is. Once you’re done with this therapeutic exercise, stop recording and notice how much better you feel after letting it all out. Listen to the recording. If you feel so inclined, you might let out a modest chuckle about how upset you were. Either way, you will probably feel much better after expressing your frustrations. 

You aren’t going to be able to follow every one of these rules every time you complain — that would be ridiculous. But sometimes griping about how bad life or finals may seem at any given moment is just what the doctor ordered. Paying better attention to your means of emotional healing is both vitally important and critically overlooked. You should be complaining more because it will help you feel better, if and when it is done right. You could even complain along with your friends. Nothing brings people together better than mutually sucky circumstances.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Noah Zaldivar at [email protected].