Last month, a friend of mine asked me, “What are you giving up for Lent?” And although I’m not Catholic, I liked the idea of giving up something that doesn’t fit with who I want to be, so I had a ready answer for her.

I said, “Complaining. I’m giving up complaining.” It’s a lot harder than it looks. See? I just did it. Complain – about giving up complaining.

Maybe I should simply cut out speaking entirely… ah, but the worst complaining of all occurs in my mind. I don’t complain much out loud, but oh, the racket in my head!

 
 

I was inspired to tackle this particular challenge by a recent encounter in the Salt Lake City airport. I was – along with literally hundreds of other passengers – waiting out a 4-hour delay due to inclement weather across much of the Midwest. Most of us were sitting, staring at our various devices, some grousing to the ground agents (as if they could control snow, sleet and hail), family and anyone else who would listen. Some, like me, were maintaining a steady inner dialogue of irritation and annoyance.

How to Stop Complaining – It’s a Choice!

The one exception was a petite 89-year-old woman, with flyaway white hair and bright blue eyes nestled in a web of wrinkles. She had a wonderful smile she bestowed on any who walked by her. Of all of us, she alone didn’t seem discomfited, bored or frustrated.

My curiosity aroused, as I had nothing better to do – having already cleaned out my email, perused Facebook and become tired of the news – I sat by her and asked if we could chat. “Of course!” she exclaimed, “What would you like to chat about?”

I asked a little about her life, and found out she lived alone on a small farm where she tended to her chickens and a few goats. “Plus the cats that come around. They always do on a farm, you know.” A helper came every couple of days to see to things she couldn’t manage on her own, neighbors would pop by for one thing or another, she volunteered at her church. She drove herself there and to market, was blessed with “good health, decent eyesight and all my teeth.”

I then asked her the question that intrigued me the most, namely, how given the inconvenience, forced rescheduling of plans, and general nuisance of this weather delay, she was able to stay in a good mood, happy and smiling, while everyone else was, you guessed it, complaining.

Howdy Doody and the Gift of Gratitude

“When you’ve lived as long as I have, you realize that every moment you have is precious,” she said as she patted my arm, leaned into me and said confidentially, “And it all started with Howdy-Doody.” At this point, I wasn’t too sure if my newfound friend was as mentally intact as she appeared to be physically.

“Go on,” I prompted, curious as to where this was going.

“You see, I was a young wife and mother, with twins – adorable baby boys, but rambunctious as all get-out. I was also helping my husband on the farm, and worrying all the time about pretty much everything.”

She continued, “And then one day, my kids were watching the TV show ‘Howdy-Doody’ on our black-and-white television set. Our TV was our only luxury. And the children were laughing and laughing! Exhausted, I sank down next to them on the floor, and soon I was laughing too. I vowed, from that day forth, never to let a day go by that I didn’t find something to laugh about, something to make me happy, something wonderful to marvel at, no matter what else was going on.”

She sat back, and looked at me with such warmth: “And that is what makes every moment precious, and more precious as the years go by. Why would I fret, complain or worry myself over things when there’s so much to enjoy, so much to be happy about?”

I wanted to cry. This woman, this perfect stranger, had touched me in a way few others ever had. She reminded me of the many reasons around us all the time that create joy, laughter, smiles – if we will make the effort to see them. Regardless, as she said, of whatever else might be going on.

So, I’m working on giving up complaining permanently, for every moment is truly precious and I don’t want to waste a single one.

Need more inspiration? About a year ago, I started a Facebook page that highlights fascinating older folks – I call them Amazings – who have the same attitude and approach to life as my airport friend. It’s called Meet the Amazings. I post stories about Amazings twice a week. None are complainers and all are doing remarkable things – in their 80s, 90s and beyond.

What moments in your daily life do you find the most precious? Have you ever tried to cut down on your complaining? What did you do? Did it work? Please share – no complaints – in the comments!

Noelle NelsonDr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including “Happy Healthy… Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right.” Please visit Noelle’s website.

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