Strategic Complaining Can Actually Make You Happier

A new study reveals the most productive way to sound off.

Most people agree that perpetual complainers are total downers—and a new study recently published in The Journal of Social Psychology confirms this. However, the research revealed something else: Complaining selectively and to the right audience could be the key to happiness.

Researchers asked 410 college students to make a list of their pet peeves (i.e., super-specific complaints) about a current or former partner, and complete an assessment on happiness, depression, mindfulness, relationship satisfaction, and life satisfaction. Then, researchers asked participants to pick out their top three pet peeves and explain how they affect their relationships.

People who expressed the fewest pet peeves were more mindful, more satisfied with their relationships, and happier overall. It's easy to see why: "People who are mindful are more aware of their complaining and more likely to complain strategically—in moderation and to the proper audience," says study co-author Robin Kowalski, a professor of psychology at Clemson University. "Complaining in a strategic way is an intentional activity that can lead to greater happiness," she adds—probably because it can lead to positive changes in your environment. For instance, say your boyfriend's dirty dishes bother you. If you clearly communicate this single complaint directly to him, you might just end up with a cleaner kitchen and better state of mind. That said, he might not respond as well if you nag him about everything all the time. People tend to zone out to chronic complainers, so their critiques aren't as impactful, and they're less likely to trigger positive changes. 

That said, the data only points out a correlation (not causation). So no one is saying that a few well-timed complaints will definitely improve your relationship or that nonstop complaining will ruin everything. 

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The bottom line? "The best complainers are those who are aware of their complaining— how much, about what, and to whom," Kowalski says. So don't overdo it. 

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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors. 

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