August: Secret to Long Life: Complain Less, Compliment More!

My father lived to be 90 before transiting from time to eternity. Not once did he complain about life’s injustice to him personally. Ever unassuming, he saw enough good in almost everything to the point that he never knew how to complain or condemn. His biblical allusion was, “in all things, let us give thanks”.

During his first visit to Canada in the 90s, he kept on complimenting Canada and Canadians everywhere we went. Even when I told him how some Canadians complain about the weather, leaders, services rendered, and how some people misbehave due to unreasonable expectations, he was all praises for Canada and Canadians.

My father will always counsel – complain less and compliment more! While the word “complain” is defined as the human act or tendency “to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; [or] find fault”; it could also mean the human propensity “to tell of one’s pains, ailments”, or it could even be a deliberate disposition “to make a formal accusation”.

I grew up seeing my father introduce the upbeat approach to bad situations, with a terse ‘it-could-have-been worse’ response to so many ‘not-so-palatable’ events and occurrences. He never for once lived like a sour apple or sore loser looking for sympathy. Years after his triumphant exit from this world, his approach remains ever potent and productive.

Jon Beaty (JB) listed five reasons why the tendency to complain could be dangerous. The first is that complaining sucks one’s energy. The second is that complaining “can move your mood below the lobby level [and into the basement level], to impatience, irritation, anger, worry.” The third one is that “it brings others down”, as the “blood pressure” of others “shoots up”, forcing the “levels of cortisol” to “spike”; and because “complaining is contagious” since it is a sad “focus on the negative”, only “one person can steer a friendly conversation into a gripe session.”

This conclusion vindicated my father’s life-long position and disposition, and calls me to act prudently and control my emotion wisely. Beaty’s fourth reason is that complaining “can shorten your life” because “stress caused by complaining impair your immune system, suppress your thyroid, increase inflammation and weaken your bones”.

Finally, Beaty’s fifth reason is that complaining “can kill creativity and innovation” because it “tends to focus our attention on the problem” and not on the solutions that we badly need. It will be like chasing shadow, and devoting total resources to curing ringworm when leprosy is there to tackle.

I have seen people complain in traffic and whine in restaurants. I have seen people grumble in shopping malls. I have witnessed emotional outburst at the airport. I have seen couples yell at each other over little things. I have witnessed serious battles between siblings as a result of unending complaints.

Talk about people’s impatience for a poor service – in schools, in hospitals, at work, at the doctor’s waiting area, in our banks, over public utilities, over neighbors’ yards, about religion, about inflation and the rising cost of living, and just about anything. We live in a world of complaining.

The world is producing more inpatient people, possibly because of our ‘drive through’, ‘easy download’, ‘proclaim and claim it’ era. But one man had mentioned something about those who complain. Benjamin Franklin, American politician and one of the founding fathers of United States of America said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” Does it mean that anyone who complains is a fool? Not really! I think Mr. Franklin is simply saying, ‘control your emotion from doing something stupid!!’

Another Benjamin whose last name is Disraeli, a British statesman, who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said, “Never complain and never explain.” He may be saying that each time we complain, we are duty bound to waste precious time in explaining the issues in full details, and of course, we know that the devil is in the detail, and may cause others to disagree violently. It could also mean that we should save ourselves the trouble of complaining in order to put the time and energy to explain to a productive use.

One man in our recent history lived out Disraeli’s wisdom. He was demonized by a tempestuous group of people who promised to derail his government, even if it will hurt the very country they swore to serve and protect, but this man who was unfairly painted as a devil refused to complain. He was blocked from implementing programs that will lift the people out of poverty, yet he refused to complain. He was vilified and even accused of being an alien, an imposter, a fraudster and an illegitimate, yet he resisted the temptation to complain.

They let loose disparaging conspiracy theories against him just to hurt and harm him in the meanest way possible, but he refused to play the ‘complain or blame game’. In response, that same man they conspired against, American President Barack Obama said, “The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.”

No wonder he won two presidential elections back to back and successfully completed his two terms without any scandal while in the “valley of the shadow of death” surrounded by enemies who lied through their teeth to score cheap political points.

Someone brought another perspective to the issue of complaining. He is a French philosopher by the name Ernest Renan, who said, “When people complain of life, it is almost always because they have asked impossible things of it.” So, what do you desire in life, and what do I expect in life?

Do I complain when I am pulled over by the police for speeding? Do I complain when my teacher made comments that I did not totally agree with? Do I complain when a person of faith expresses what they believe in, or do I even go as far as complaining that the statement is “offensive”?

The more we complain, the more we demonstrate intolerance. The more we complain, the more we become an irritant. The more we complain, the more we hate our environment. The more we complain, the more people we push away. This may be the time when we will need a chaplain who is always open and plain to explain the disdain we exude each time we complain.

So, we need to compliment more in order to live long! Compliment is defined as “an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration” (‘a sincere compliment boosts one’s morale’) or “a formal act or expression of civility, respect, or regard”; or “a courteous greeting; good wishes; [and] regards”.

Danica Trebel identified “seven reasons why you should pay a compliment to someone every day”.

First, “Compliments are F.R.E.E.!”. You need not pay a dime.

Second, “When you give a compliment, you’re more than likely going to get one in return” because “what goes around comes around”.

Third, “your daily compliments to “the shy one” at work whose name no one knows can help her break out of her shyness”, hence, “sincere compliments build trust”.

Fourth, “kindness could quite possibly kill a bad mood or a bad memory, but it WILL NOT kill you or the person on the other end of the kindness.”

Fifth, “compliments spark creativity”, because “finding something positive to say to someone at least once a day has the power to remove, say, that person’s mental block around a big project they’ve been struggling with and clear the pathways for them to get to the solution.”

The sixth point identified by Trebel is that “smiling burns calories”, while the seventh reason why one should compliment on a daily basis is because complimenting someone “takes the focus off of you”, and helps to “break the habit of “stinkin’ thinkin’”. It was former American president, Abraham Lincoln who said, “Everybody likes a compliment.”

This is because it adds value. It shows appreciation. In fact, American author Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” This is because it brings something special to the receiver. It affirms something of worth, and reinforces the importance of the gifts the receiver brings to bear on his or her environment.

Hence, American author, Harriette Jackson Brown Jr. called on everyone to “compliment three people every day.” This is a call to action. One can start with family members, colleagues at work, in school, and friends in the neighborhood. A clergy, and an American author, Joyce Meyer said, “It’s very inexpensive to give a compliment.”

If it will not cost us anything to give a compliment, why do we fail to do it? Why do we walk past each other without exchanging pleasantries – why are we giving up a large piece of our humanity?

Why are we devolving into walking trees that wouldn’t even acknowledge the existence of the fellow next door? When we compliment someone, we give a gift to complete and complement the other person.

When we compliment, we express a delight that will bring sunshine of contentment. When we compliment, we show a human commitment to the other person. We compliment, we simply make a conferment of dignity and respect on the other person. When we compliment more, we call others to enjoy the beauty of our humanity with us, and we live longer together!

(❚ Dr. Sunday Akin Olukoju is a university tutor, a college advisor, a community newspaper correspondent, and the president of a community organization)

July: Ignorance + Arrogance = ‘Stupravity’