Want to know if someone is happy? Simply observe how much that person complains.


Life can be hard…, but it is certainly more difficult if we are not able to face it with the most positive attitude possible. Moreover, in the course of our lives, we will coincide with people who are more positive than others, and these relationships affect us. It is therefore important to detect those who give us more positive energy than negative and to be more surrounded by the former, who radiates happiness, than the latter, who can bring us down with them. But how do we recognize one over the other? How can we detect if the person we are dealing with is happy and radiates good vibrations, or unhappy and sucks energy from us? Simply: observe how much they complain.

Complaining is a world unto itself. A way of life even for some. To a greater or lesser extent, we all tend to complain; in fact, it has been proven that doing so (moderately) helps us to release stress (“burn” cortisol) ……  But, it is also true that doing it in excess can become a nightmare for our mood, health, and social relationships.

When you think about this, it surely comes to your mind some acquaintance who, to a greater or lesser extent, every time you meet, gives you the impression that his life is based on misfortunes and misfortunes. They are people who like to proclaim to the four winds, or to anyone who will listen to them, that they are so unhappy with life, becoming the masters of the universe of complaints. And without being very conscious, they want to attract us to their world.


We know from their complaints that something is not making them happy. At first, we can be empathetic and sympathize with them. But there comes the point where, before X number of complaints, a certain refusal to continue having an encounter or interaction with that person awakens in us. It sucks too much energy out of us.

Unfortunately, our distancing may not help them to change their attitude in dealing with life’s adversities. In the same way, we may also feel some discomfort for not knowing how to help our friend or family member in this situation.

With this small article, I want to help you develop a model with which you will be able to evaluate the happiness of another person (and even your own) based on the complaint. By measuring the quantity and especially the quality of the complaint, you will be able to observe and evaluate their state of mind. You won’t have a magic wand to change their lamentations, but you will be able to be aware of how to handle the situation more appropriately.

 And even better, share this article so that they become aware (my friends have told me that sharing the ideas I expose is working very well for them).

Surely, after finishing your reading you will be more aware of the state of happiness in your life and in other people’s lives. Shall we begin?

What is a complaint?

According to Webster Dictionary, a complaint is the expression of grief, pain, or dissatisfaction; something that is the cause or subject of protest or outcry (link)

Life is marked by many experiences; some make us very happy and encourage us to make all kinds of efforts and endeavors. However, there are also other negatives, complex and difficult situations; for which we are almost always less prepared. 

Complaining is a way of expressing our dissatisfaction, discomfort, or frustration with an event, situation, or person that has not “worked out” as we would like or expected. As we usually share this discomfort with someone, complaining can be very useful when it comes to releasing certain daily tensions. It is like an escape valve so as not to explode. However, if we observe carefully, they also become a determining factor in measuring our state of happiness and that of others.

Learning to observe: quantity and quality of complaints:

The first thing we must do is to learn to observe, to pay attention to the quantity and quality of the complaints, grunts, and groans of our subject of observation. This will be the first step, to finding out how happy a person is. 

Calculating the quantity is not very difficult. We simply have to look at how often a person complains. Does he or she complain several times a day? Once or twice a day? Once a week? Only once in a while? With this, we have the first point of reference.

As you can imagine, quantity is only part of the equation. Quality is just as, if not more, important than frequency. But how do we calculate quality? First of all, we need to know how best to value it, because the individual value we place on quality is sometimes too subjective. So the best thing to do is to look at how we can set parameters, as realistically as possible, to help us find a consensus on the quality of the complaint. As a general rule, we tend to think that what we feel is what anyone else would feel in the same situation. It is for this reason that we must try and be aware that our assessment is as realistic and practical as possible for our practice.

To solve this, we will resort to what is normally used in science: empirical evidence. Data and results lead us to the same reality. That is, we can test a hypothesis – the argument of why we complain – and the result will be that anyone would come to the same conclusion. 

By empirical evidence, we will consider that the complaint can be universal and/or scientific. Universal will be the reaction that the vast majority of human beings – regardless of culture and socioeconomic status – have to the same fact when faced with the same problem.

While scientific is when there is evidence and justified proofs that demonstrate some alterations in the brain or physiology of some people (that there are scientific studies that support it), as a result of the death of a loved one, for example.

There are studies that show results of experiments in which the effects of being emotionally hurt activate the same brain areas (the anterior cingulate cortex) as those that are activated when we are victims of physical violence. Although physical wounds are easier to prove, emotional wounds can also create “objective” and observable suffering in the brain, such as those we may suffer when we lose a loved one, or when we go through a traumatic experience.

Learn About the Science and Principles Behind Our Relationships with Attention Reframed

How can we categorize complaints?

With these premises, we could already begin to distinguish the empirical (objective) complaint from the non-empirical (subjective) one.

  • Objective complaint: This would be the complaint as a result of a real and evidenced fact, which is universally acceptable or scientifically demonstrable. It is therefore an objective complaint.
  • Subjective complaint: This type of complaint, is one that is not based on real facts, but rather on the imagination of the person complaining. For example, my life is a disaster, everything goes wrong for me, etc.

Now, the second issue to consider is the level of intensity of the complaint. That is, how serious the consequences of such a mishap may be. The greater the consequence, the greater the intensity of the complaint or the longer the person will remain in that state of complaint. To make it easy, we would have two possibilities: the complaint of high consequences and the complaint of low consequences.

Low consequences are understood as those whose repercussions do not usually last for a long time; normally they are those whose intensity has an impact only for a few minutes or hours. High consequences are those whose consequences usually last several days, weeks, or even months and years. With low consequences, we do not feel as unhappy as with high consequences.


Complaint quality model:

We can now design our Complaint Quality model. On the one hand, we have two categories based on objectivity (Objective and subjective), and two categories based on intensity (high and low consequences). With this we can draw four possible scenarios, which are perfectly summarized in this table:

Let us now take a closer look at these examples:

1- Low-consequence subjective complaint : This is the case, for example, of someone who goes to have a coffee and the waiter who serves him is distracted, responds badly or does not serve him, because he is chatting with his co-workers. Erroneously, he may mistakenly think: “all waiters in this country are lazy”, “they always serve me badly here”. In a way, this at that moment may be true, which does not mean that all waiters in that place are bad at service, nor that waiters in the whole country are lazy. We tend to generalize with our little everyday experiences and mark everyone down equally. The complaint of this type that becomes a habit also ends up showing a person who is very unhappy with her environment.

2- High-consequence subjective complaint: An example of high consequence faced with the same fact, the subjective opinion of the person on the intensity and repercussions is much stronger: “everything goes wrong for me” or “my life is a disaster”, “I am worthless”, etc. In reality, most of these complaints come from the misinterpretation of various low-consequence events (a waiter serving me badly, an unexpected bank commission, or being robbed of an object of little value); but their frequency, in me, makes me interpret as if life is going against me. The low consequence becomes a high consequence: everything goes wrong for me.  And that is when the person who spends all day complaining about the smallest things, receives an extra dose of cortisol in his body and is subjected to a stress that he himself is creating. Unhappiness is transmitted.

3- Low-consequence objective complaint  This type of complaint is usually more common when we lose something of value, which involves an effort on our part to recover it, but the value does not make us go through economic hardship. Think of a digital watch or a cell phone, for example, whose market value today is quite inexpensive. Evidently, the loss of them implies a hassle and an effort to recover it, and everyone will agree with that because it is something empirical. But apart from the displeasure, it can give us for a few hours, the grievance should not exceed the cost or value of the lost object. Feeling extremely upset and complaining excessively about our lost objects also conveys a certain kind of unhappiness. According to Buddhism, attaching ourselves to objects makes us unhappy. Complaining too much about the loss of an object simply transmits that unhappiness to others.

4- High-consequence objective complaint High-consequence subjective complaints can be seen, for example, when a loved one dies, or when someone faces a divorce. These events shake our lives and cause a lot of pain. The consequences of these events will have a longer duration in time, which is why we qualify them as a high consequence. Regardless of the culture in which these events occur, all people will recognize this state universally. However, after a period of time (usually marked by 2 years of mourning, according to psychologists), being stuck in that complaint will also show that there is something in us that has not been able to recover, that is unhappy.



The importance of learning to be aware

You may think that the worst type of complaints is the objective ones (both low and high consequences). In the end, it is objective data and based on something real and demonstrable. The complaint is justified. But nothing could be farther from reality. The most serious case arises from the continuity of the  complaint (with low or high consequences). 

Objectively, not so many misfortunes usually happen to us. But subjectively, based on our imagination or our interpretation of reality, complaints can be infinite. Everything that happens around us can fall under the merciless sword of our complaint. And by focusing on the more pessimistic side of life on a continuous basis, the person sinks into a spiral of negativity that does not allow him or her to move forward with another approach to life.

 If one is aware of how much one is complaining and the quality of that complaint, one can begin to deal with it more. The wisdom of life is in accepting that things have happened, happen, and will happen, the idea is to accept them as they come and without so much complaining turn your energies into finding a way to fix them. 

Take the example of the Dalai Lama, who smiled despite the massacre that had occurred in Tibet by China. When asked how he could continue to smile in the face of such calamity, his answer was simple but powerful: “Because the only thing that cannot be taken away from me is happiness. If they take away my happiness, I have nothing left”.

Now that you have this tool to measure how happy a person is, how happy do you show yourself to others? Tell me, how do you see yourself? Are you someone who complains a lot or not? Do you know of anyone in your environment who complains more than necessary? Have you become more aware of your complaints? Which friend or family member needs to read this post?

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