What's the problem with focusing on the problem?


Complaining…we all do it. But sometimes, do you wish your could back off the bellyaching?

My husband and noticed we had gotten in to a bit of a rut...a running commentary on how we thought the world should be. So we decided to go on a "complaining cleanse". About a week into this little experiment, we noticed that we generally felt better when we appreciated something about a situation instead of complained about it.

I realized that in almost every situation the glass is both half empty and half full! There are both good and bad in nearly every situation and I get to choose which I focused on. I am not suggesting you ignore the stuff that feels yucky, but just acknowledge that there is ALSO good in each situation. 

Noticing that I felt better when I focused on the "half full" inspired me to dig into the research to see what was actually happening up there in my brain.

First, it’s good to know that when we notice and appreciate the good things today, it actually makes it more likely we will notice the good things tomorrow…but the same happens with complaining…the more we complain today, the more we will complain tomorrow. This happens due to the chemicals released in our brains when we notice the good stuff or when we complain. 

Researchers have found that when we focus on what's good in our life, not just what's bad, the following things happen:

  • More happiness, optimism and self worth; less anxiety, depression, and envy. 
  • We even sleep better when we focus more on the good stuff!

If you're interested in playing around with this idea:

Notice the good stuff and then let yourself actually feel the experience of the goodness. Try this with your first cup of coffee or tea, hold it in your hand, breath in the aroma and be with that nice feeling for several seconds...rather that complaining that you have to get out of bed early. 

The more you pause to appreciate and experience these good feelings, the more likely you will do it again in the future. 

Bottom line: the more your complain, the more you will complain. The more you notice the good stuff, the more you will notice the good stuff. You choose!  

If you're interested in learning more about this topic, check out Rick Hanson PhD's latest book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness