Sometimes when people ask how I’m doing and really want to hear about it, I find myself rattling off a list of complaints. I have to get my car repaired and there isn’t enough time to do what needs to be done and my pets are out of control and the list goes on… Although I think it will, it doesn’t make me feel any better now that it’s all off my chest. Then the other person feels free to tell me about their trials and tribulations. I notice that we both leave the conversation feeling no better than we did entering it, and I wonder if it’s done any good.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a time and a place to complain about situations that aren’t going as we hoped. I also think that being positive all the time is nearly impossible, and sometimes annoying to the people around me. Complaints allow us to reassess and make better decisions or to see exactly what we don’t like about something that is happening. Talking about them with someone else allows us to get a new perspective or be supported in our frustration. All of that is good when used well.

But I also find that there are times when most of my conversations focus around my complaints and feeling sorry for myself. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and begins to put me down into the whirlpool of self-doubt and general bad mood. And when I notice that, I know I need to turn things around and begin to have more positive conversations for my own good.

A friend introduced me to the concept of asking people about what is good and new in their lives to change the tone of a conversation. She mentioned using this question to begin staff meetings and promote team cohesion, but I think it’s just as useful when talking to friends and family members, one on one or in a group. By thinking about what is good, or what is going well, we interrupt the negative though spiral of why life sucks today. We have the opportunity to open our thoughts and experiences to what is good in our lives.

What is good a new doesn’t have to be big news, either. It can be something as small as having a great cup of coffee that tasted just right, or finally finding the book you’ve been looking for under the couch, or wearing a new pair of shoes. Thinking of what is good and new is a great way of practicing gratitude and learning to appreciate what you have. It allows you to notice that although things aren’t perfect (or maybe not even good) at the moment, there is a lot that is going well. It’s easy to forget that.

In the interest of finding a better balance, I think there’s room to do both complaining and appreciating. I recently was having a conversation that was moving towards a long ranting complaint and stopped to give myself a time limit. I got 5 minutes to complain, and then I had to talk about things I’m grateful for in the next 5 minutes, and so did the other person. I don’t think either of us took a full 5 minutes to complain, but we both had more than 5 minutes of good things to talk about once we started. And I left that conversation feeling uplifted and connected. Try it! I’d love to see how it works for you.