Last weekend I was sitting in a street café enjoying the glorious spring weather and quite by chance I overheard two women sitting at the next table talking. All one of them could do was to moan to such an extent that I wondered whether there was anything in this world that could possibly be a source of satisfaction to her. In my own immediate circles I hardly know anybody who has such a tendency.   Actually it was rather a banal conversation but it still got me thinking about how differently people view and assess their own life situations. And about how sometimes it's those people who lead really easy lives who whinge and moan most loudly about the wrongs of this world while others, whose lives are not easy by any stretch of the imagination, seem to be illuminated by a kind of inner contentment.

Is moaning really therapeutic? 

Perhaps you’re now thinking that sometimes it really does help if you’re able to speak about your thoughts and feelings with someone else and that it does do you good to have someone who listens to you. And I would completely agree with you. Only I wouldn’t call that moaning.  

Real moaning is when the thoughts in your head spin in a continuous loop. Real moaning turns in a circle and never finds a true ending because its goal is never to find an end. It’s an expression of the peculiar pleasure of being discontented or – conversely – of never wanting to be content. It’s never enough and never good enough. 

Studies have shown that on average people in affluent societies are much more dissatisfied with their lives than are people in poorer countries. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to romanticize the state of poverty. What I’m talking about here is that “Jammern auf hohem Niveau“, that “high-level moaning” or whinging about problems only of concern to the affluent first world, as the German politician Lothar Späth once famously put it. 

If I badmouth everything and become obsessed with all those things others have but I haven’t, then at some point my life really will take a turn for the worse – not materially but in terms of my view of myself and my outlook on the world.  Because all such an attitude to life does is to spread negative energy; it will neither change the situation nor lead to any positive developments or solutions. Moaning is not therapeutic. The only thing to do is to try and change things, even if the first steps in this direction are ever so small. 

The vexed question of “Why”

But what if you can’t change the situation? What happens when a natural catastrophe destroys the very foundations of existence or the sudden unexpected death of a loved one tears your whole world apart? Naturally I can understand that people in such situations might moan now and then as they recognise that they can do nothing to change such blows of fate. I know the pain, the grief, the sadness but also the anger that arises from feeling completely powerless only too well from my own experience. 

But even so, there is one question that I have never asked, a question that could easily have led into the realm of moaning and complaint, and that is the question of “why”. Why did OUBEY have to die so young? This question leads nowhere because it has no answer, at least not in this world. We are able to influence and shape our lives in such an infinite variety of ways and yet there are still things over which we simply have no control. It does help if we find it in ourselves to accept this. We haven’t understood the uncertainties of life if we blithely assume that we will be spared “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, because they are all destined for other people, not ourselves. This is not something to be taken for granted.  

And this is why we should be grateful for all the good experiences and great times we’ve had and can still look forward to. Grateful people do not moan. 

The perception trap

People who moan are caught in a perception trap whereby you overlook the good things to see only the bad. When you concentrate exclusively on the bad things and only talk about them, there’s a kind of amplifying washback effect that makes the bad appear even worse. In short, moaning grows strong by feeding on itself. Moaning is a letter of complaint addressed to nobody in particular. It’s a way of relinquishing responsibility. Because if you moan loudly, you’ll get attention but won’t have to change anything. And probably some people don’t want to change anything anyway.  

That’s how it is

I‘ll stick with those people who first recognise reality for what it is without moaning and complaining about it. Now this certainly doesn’t mean that they’re accommodating and comfortable with everything – quite the contrary: that’s how it is doesn’t mean that’s how it always must stay. For me it’s just a springboard, a vantage point from which I can look out and consider what I can do with this here and now, and how it can be developed and changed. This gives birth to new possibilities which put excitement in life and make it interesting. 

For as long as we live, we are always capable of changing things – even of changing our own behaviour. There are the most incredible stories of people who have found their way out of seemingly hopeless situations which can serve as shining examples of what we can accomplish when we don’t moan even though life has tested us to our utmost limits.  

That’s how I try to live. And that’s what I wish all of you – including the woman at the next table.