Are you kidding me? No complaints for 21 days? No way! It’s human nature to complain.
But that’s exactly what Rev. Will Bowen of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City challenged his people to do in 2006. “The one thing we can agree on,” he said, “is there’s too much complaining.”
He invited the people of the church he served to break the habit, challenging them to take a pledge to swear off complaining, criticizing, gossiping, kvetching, or using sarcasm for 21 days.
The idea has spread like wildfire. His website www.acomplaintfreeworld.org claims that over 14 million people have taken the challenge. People receive a purple bracelet when they join. If they catch themselves complaining, they take off the bracelet, switch it to the opposite wrist and start all over again.
Now I generally try to be a positive person, so I thought this would be a snap. I started my month.
How did I do?
Let me put it this way: Please hear my confession. I put the rubber bracelet on my left wrist and, feeling righteous and holy, I began. Then my computer froze. I complained. Switch the bracelet to the right wrist. That night, I was watching television and complained about a particularly odious commercial. The bracelet returned to the left wrist. The next morning, I groaned about the aches and pains in my aging body. Right wrist. Then I complained about the light snowfall. Left wrist.
I was discovering what everyone who takes the pledge finds out: going 21 days without complaining — Is. Not. Easy.
Will Bowen says that it took him three and a half months to do it. It has taken others seven months, or even longer. I figure that if the average person complains 10 times a day for 21 days, then 14 million bracelets have stopped 3 trillion complaints. That’s a lot less ear pollution.
I kept at it. I’m up to 4 1⁄2 days. But if the wrong team wins the Super Bowl, all bets are off.
Instead of just stopping complaining, I decided to replace it with gratitude. Have you ever noticed that when you’re with a complainer, all you can think of is how to get out of there? When you’re with someone who’s grateful, you want to stay.
In his experiments on the impact of gratitude, psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons has shown that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by up to 25%. Grateful people tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. When we practice gratitude, our lives become so much richer.
When we focus on gratitude, we learn to see the blessings in our lives. We choose to see blessing rather than loss. As Dr. Emmons points out, “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.” We choose to focus on all the goodness in our lives, which also happens to help us deal with those parts of our lives which aren’t so good.
People of faith have known that since forever. Science is finally catching up!
I’m going to keep working at this. In fact, this will be my Lenten discipline this year, which begins on March 2. I’m going to give up complaining and add gratitude to my life. Even amid all the difficulties that may happen in 2022. Why don’t you join me this Lent?
And perhaps … just maybe … if enough people try this challenge, we can work together to change the world.