Can’t Complain

Oh, Happy Day cropped
Jean McGuire, Oh, Happy Day, Oil on canvas board, 8 x 12 inches ©2015

My part-time day job is working at the front desk of my favorite YMCA. This job includes many of the duties of a receptionist, and the main function is greeting people as they come into the building. All of us at the front desk tries to throw out a cheerful “How are you doing?” to everyone who comes to the desk. “I can’t complain,” is a response I hear more and more frequently.

I’m curious about the increased usage of this particular phrase. When did we decide not being able to complain was a good thing? Do we expect so little of ourselves and our lives that not being in a negative place is good enough? What defines the difference between “I can’t complain,” and “I’m doing great?” I believe in the power of positive thinking, which is the philosophy that what you put out there is what you get. So what does “I can’t complain” put out there?

I want to be happy and I want other people to be happy too. I don’t want to be around people who “can’t complain”; I want to be around people who are out there, thriving on their lives and the ups and downs that make up the roller coaster of life. Recently, I caught up on the blogs of a couple of friends who are on similar journeys to mine. I love their outlook, their enthusiasm, and their ability to write passages that make me smile or think. These are the people I want to spend my time with.

We are so used to living a life of merely existing that we’ve forgotten how to look around us and find the joy that’s there for us every day.  One morning a few years ago, my then boyfriend woke up, got out of bed, looked out the window at a stormy sky, and announced it was going to be a terrible day. I leapt out of bed, stark naked and instantly alert, and begged him to please change his wording as quickly as possible. That’s how strongly I believe in the power of what we put out there. Trust me, if at my age I am willing to jump and run while stark naked, it’s going to be for something I believe in to my core.

Personally, I think “I can’t complain,” is a symptom of a society that has forgotten how to be happy. We wake up, go to work, come home, fix dinner, watch TV and go to bed. Our days are so consumed with the electronics that were created to help make our lives easier that we no longer know how to entertain ourselves much less each other. We communicate with each other on social media or with the mini-computers we call our phones and carry with us everywhere.

Even when we leave home to go out and socialize, our smart phones are always present. Who hasn’t seen a couple sitting together in a restaurant with both heads facing downwards towards their phones instead of looking up and talking to each other? Half the time, those couples are posting updates on social media so their “friends” will know what they’re doing while ignoring the friend across the table form them.

Some friends recently went on vacation to a cabin in Virginia that had no television, no wifi, and no phone service. I asked them how they dealt with it. They did the same things our great-grandparents did; they played cards, went for long walks, and talked to each other. What a novel idea!

What do I do to try and bring happiness into my life? I am a big believer in finding at least three things each morning to be grateful for every day. It makes you think and it makes you really focus on gratitude. Every day I look for things to be positive about. I try really hard never to complain about things. It might not sound like gratitude and happiness are connected, but they are. The more you focus on the things you are grateful for, the less inclined you are to focus on what’s not there.

In an effort to re-claim joy, I am trying to re-capture some of my old habits from childhood. When I look up at the sky, I try to imagine what animal the clouds look like. When I find a coin, I try to celebrate the prosperity that coin represents by giving thanks and feeling grateful. Every so often when I’m teaching yoga I have my students spin in circles. The reason I give them is that it helps work their equilibrium. The reason I enjoy it so much is because there are smiles and giggles every time we do them.

People have told me it must be easier to be grateful or happy since I no longer work a corporate job. True, that does help, but it’s not everything. I still work, teach, paint, and write. All of these combined add up to a lot more than 40 hours a week. The difference for me is; I get to do something I love EVERY day. That doesn’t mean every day is wonderful; life brings us challenges all the time no matter what we’re doing. What it means is I give myself a reason to smile every day by doing the things that make me happy.

I know not everyone is in a position to walk away from a 9-5 job. It’s hard to leave the beaten path when other people depend on you. It’s hard to walk away from those things that make us feel secure. So, how do we get out of our ruts? Try taking baby steps. Take a day off and do NOTHING. Take a day to play with your kids, not just herding them between scheduled activities. Go for a long walk or bike ride without the vaguest idea of where you’ll end up. Turn off the TV and take some time to read something inspiring or write down whatever is in your heart. While abandoning the rigidity of your daily life, take deep, deep breaths inhaling the fragrance of freedom.

What I don’t recommend is living a life where “I can’t complain,” is the highest accolade you can give your life. If you can’t jump off the merry-go-round of your structured life, at least take a jump for joy once in a while. I can guarantee you’ll be smiling when your feet hit the ground again.




One thought on “Can’t Complain”

  1. you know, you’re right. I have heard that phrase a lot lately!
    so true about the electronic devices…they’re meant to save time and it seems like sometimes they end up consuming it instead.

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