A Complaint Free World, Revised and Updated
If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
In your hands you hold the secret to transforming your life. It’s been over 15 years since I first typed those words, and I am more convinced of their truth today than ever. Over the past decade and a half, more than 15 million people in 106 countries have taken the 21-day Complaint Free challenge and, as a result, transformed their families, their jobs, their churches, their schools, and, most significantly, their own lives.
They have used the simple idea of putting a purple silicone bracelet on their wrist and then switching it from wrist to wrist every time they complained until they completed twenty-one consecutive days without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. In so doing, they formed a powerful, lifechanging new habit. By becoming conscious of and changing their words, they changed their thoughts and began to create their lives by design.
You may wonder how this all got started. I’d like to take credit for it all, but I didn’t create the Complaint Free movement, it created me!
In 2006, while minister of a small church in Kansas City, Missouri, I was doing a series on prosperity based on Edwene Gaines’s powerful book The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity
. In her book, Gaines makes the point that nearly all people claim to want prosperity, but they spend most of their waking hours complaining about what they already have. In so doing, they repel rather than attract abundance.
Complaining never attracts what you want; it perpetuates what you don’t want.
The human desire for increased prosperity is both normal and universal. And when you ask people what they mean by “increased prosperity,” the reply is often some variation of “more.” They say, “I want more money, more love, more health, more free time,” etc. And even as they cry out for “more,” people simultaneously complain about what they already have.
As Wayne Dyer put it so profoundly, “If you’re not happy with what you have, why would you want more?
” The first step toward prosperity in all its forms is to be grateful for what you already possess, and you can’t complain about what you have and be grateful at the same time.
Since the Complaint Free movement began, a lot has transpired. In addition to more than fifteen million purple bracelets’ being distributed worldwide, we have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC World News Tonight, NBC’s Today
show (twice), CBS’s Sunday Morning,
and National Public Radio.
Stories about the Complaint Free phenomenon have appeared in Newsweek, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Wall Street Journal, People, Good Housekeeping
, and other books and periodicals all over the globe.
Stephen Colbert took shots at us on The Colbert Report
. Dennis Miller made a joke about not liking the color of our bracelets, a typical Miller tongue-in-cheek jab making a complaint about no-complaint bracelets. On 60 Minutes
, Andy Rooney quipped, “If this guy has his way, I’ll be out of a job.”
Oprah Winfrey challenged her makeup artist to use one of our bracelets to quit griping. And Oprah’s O
magazine’s South Africa edition distributed fifty thousand of our bracelets to its readership.
Twice, the United States Congress has put forth a bill to make the day before Thanksgiving Complaint Free Wednesday as a way to transition from a day without complaining into our national day of gratitude. Plus, dozens of cities large and small have passed resolutions adopting Complaint Free Wednesday in their municipalities.
We created a Complaint Free Schools curriculum that has been used by teachers at thousands of schools around the world to transform students’ lives.
Businesses large and small have used our Complaint Free Business program to improve morale, lower turnover, and increase profits even during the economic roller coaster of the last fifteen years.
Churches of every faith have introduced our Complaint Free Churches program to their congregations, resulting in greater happiness and harmony. In fact, I recently had lunch at an Indian restaurant where all of the employees were wearing our Complaint Free bracelets. When I asked my waiter where he got his bracelet, he responded, “Our Hindu temple gave them out.”
I’ve been hired to keynote conventions around the world, including for banks, insurance companies, credit unions, software firms, direct marketing companies, automobile manufacturers, major accounting firms, national school associations, government agencies, utility companies, and hospitals, speaking to audiences as large as five thousand people.
And as a result of this movement, I’ve been fortunate enough to see each of my five books become an international bestseller.
People often ask me, “Did you think the Complaint Free idea would become this huge when you began?”
And my honest answer is “No.”
I’ve tried to figure out how I, at that time an obscure Missouri minister in a small church, could inspire a shock wave that resounded around the world, and I believe it’s because of two reasons:
1. There is too much complaining in the world.
2. The world is not the way we would like it to be.
And here’s the point: The two are correlated. We are so busy focusing on what is wrong in the world, as evidenced by our complaints, that we are perpetuating these problems.
We are obsessed with what is wrong. We complain about anything and everything, and as a result we keep focusing on our problems, which, in turn, expand. Contrary to popular belief, complaining does not lead to solving our problems. Rather, it concretizes our challenges and justifies our inaction in doing anything to improve them.
Since I wrote the first version of this book back in 2008, a lot more research has been done on the negative impact of complaining on our lives and our society.
Inside, we all know the soul-crushing impact of being around a glass-is-half-empty person for extended periods of time, and this was proven by a research project that looked at a group of high school girls.
Researchers identified several girls who met every day at school for lunch, during which their primary mode of communication was complaining. They would complain about their parents, teachers, homework—anything and everything was a fair target for their negative commentary.
The interesting thing is what happened one day when the girl whom the scientists had identified as the biggest complainer of the bunch was not in school.
What do you think the other girls complained about in her absence? You guessed it—her! They complained the entire lunch period about how negative the absent girl was.
The takeaway here is that even chronic complainers are repelled by too much griping.
Further, this complaining has negative ramifications. In a study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Developmental Psychology
, researchers followed a group of 813 third through ninth graders in the Midwest for six months. The students were questioned as to who they considered to be their closest friends and what they discussed most frequently. The results showed that girls who talked excessively to one another about their problems (vented) were more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. This, in turn, led to more talking about problems and negative feelings, which brought out more venting, which led to more dissatisfaction, which led to still more problems.
Now, before you read any farther, I should offer you a warning. By reading this book, you’re going to become more aware of negativity and complaining. In fact, it will be as if someone turned up the volume on complaining in your world. However, once you’re aware of it, you can choose whether to participate. And, after reading this book, you probably won’t want to.
When I was a boy growing up in South Carolina, nearly everyone smoked cigarettes. I can remember going to the pediatrician to have my asthma checked. Ol’ Doc Castles would place a stethoscope on my chest and wheeze as he instructed, “Breathe deeply.” My doctor wheezed because he would typically have a cigarette dangling from his lips during my visits.
Most people, even doctors treating young boys for asthma, smoked back then. Everyone and everything—people’s clothes, hair, breath, homes, furniture, and cars; offices; movie theaters; and more—reeked of cigarette smoke, and yet we were so used to it that we barely noticed. Today, hardly any public place in the United States permits smoking. If you visit a country where people still smoke freely, it’s astounding how pungent and noxious the smell of smoke permeating everything can be. And yet the people in those countries, just like people in the United States decades ago, don’t recognize the cloying stink of cigarette smoke.
As you move through your Complaint Free journey, you are going to begin to notice how negative most people’s attitudes and comments are—including your own! The negativity is already there, you will just become aware of it for perhaps the first time. Right now, complaining is like cigarette odor. It always surrounds you, but you are now going to start to notice it.
And, if you look for it, you may even notice what I call Negativity Chic.