The Art of the Kvetch — Thanksgiving Edition
Kvetch: noun: a person who complains a great deal.
Somewhere in the Garden of Eden, a really really really long time ago . . .
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Then the man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
Genesis 3: 11–12
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the first recorded complaint in the history of the world.
I maintain that on the Eighth Day, the Almighty created kvetching and it has been going strong ever since. Who are we kidding? We love to complain. Even as we complain that other people complain, we are actually complaining about them. But we don’t see that. Of course not.
There are two clear camps on complaining, pro-kvetch and anti-kvetch. The question is, should we stop complaining? If so, why?
Cleary, not all kvetching is created equal. I’ll go one step further: there is a place for complaining in this world. Without complaining, comedy would not exist. Would you pay for a ticket to listen to someone talk about how great everything is? Maybe it is for them. Good for them. I don’t need to hear about it. Conversely, you wouldn’t pay to listen to someone talk about life’s disasters and infuriations — straight. Of course, you wouldn’t. That’s just masochism.
However, I don’t mind paying money to listen to someone complain about the same problems I have, with the anger I wish I could express (without getting fired/divorced/evicted etc.), with the added kick of perfect tone and timing. Consider this: for those who are successful, kvetching provides a very comfortable living. Nice work if you can get it.
Now, consider the people in your circle who excel at disappointment, and excel at telling you about it. You don’t mind listening to their kvetching. What makes one person’s kvetching engaging, and another person’s annoying? Because they make it entertaining. It’s their personality, their outlook, their delivery. Winnie the Pooh had his Eeyore, Jerry Seinfeld had his George. And let’s face it, it’s NOT happening to you, so that’s a plus as well.
So why the guilt trip over kvetching? It feels ungrateful. We are supposed to be focusing on the joys and bounty of what we have, practicing gratitude for the multitude of blessings that have been bestowed upon self and family. Yeah, okay, I’m good with all that . . . you see what’s coming next, don’t you? Sure you do. But -
The but word is the airport ground crew marshaler waving the orange batons toward the kvetch runway, and we’re about to take off.
I’ve done the self-help books. I’ve done the power of positive thinking, the art and practice of thinking positively about solving problems in a positive manner with a positive outlook. I know the danger of the “but.” “But” focuses on the negative, seeing only what’s wrong, what won’t work, what can’t be done. “But” finishes you before you ever get started. Forget about running the race, you’re nowhere near the starting blocks. You’re back in the locker room changing out of your shorts. You’re done, finished, toast. You’re out of the stadium, in the car, and driving away. You’re supposed to eliminate the “but” and substitute “but” with “and.” That way, you’re acknowledging the challenge of the situation without making it sound insurmountable.
I can complain with an “and” “if” “but” “nor” and “or” if it’s necessary. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, when it shits like a duck and you’re standing in said poo, you’re still going to have to throw out your ruined shoes.
Kvetching is Holding you Back
It’s estimated that the self-help industry generated a whopping 11 billion dollars per year in 2018. That’s nothing to complain about.
And if I wanted to kvetch, which of course I do, I find it upsetting that there are countless examples in said self-help books of people who quit their kvetching and as a result have had life changing experiences including increased prosperity, career fulfillment, and realized romantic expectations. Countless individuals who are only identified by their first name or “a man” or “a woman,” who no one seems to know, and who are all having an Eat Pray Love experience because they stopped bitching. But they never have a last name and there is no discernible way to confirm the actual existence of these people. I mean, I’m happy for them, b . . . never mind, you know how this sentence ends.
People will pay money, lots of money, to listen to someone tell them how good things can be. Why? Because things are not good right now and you have been complaining about it — and you want to make it better. And at this class, or with this book, you will be told that there is one critical change you have to make ASAP that will improve your life immediately — stop complaining.
It’s Not Healthy
Kvetching is considered bad for you. Did you know that? Let me qualify that statement: it depends on who you ask.
According to science, kvetching has been killing us, wreaking havoc on our bodies in countless ways.
Supposedly, every time we complain, our brains adjust to “kvetch mode” and will change its circuitry to make it easier to return to the kvetch once again — like biological breadcrumbs. This is how a person rewires themself to be a Debbie Downer.
In that sense, kvetching mimics an Old Testament genealogy list i.e., complaining begets complaining, that begets more complaining, and so on.
Cortisol High — or Low
When you kvetch, you release the stress hormone cortisol, which screws up countless functions such as how you learn and what you remember (although it doesn’t seem to affect ability to remember how to kvetch — ironic).
To all of the aforementioned health concerns, my eighty-two-year-old mother, who will probably outlive me, will give you her signature line: “Don’t be ridiculous.” My mother has been complaining, loud and proud, for decades. She has no compunction, nor feels any restraint, to express her dissatisfaction whenever and wherever the moment strikes her. She subscribes to the idea that it’s bad to “hold it in” and it’s best to “get it off her chest.”
She’s as healthy as a horse.
A National Pastime
It’s not as big as baseball, but there is a National Whiner’s Day. Did you know this? I did not. In 1986, the Reverend Kevin Zaborney, God Bless him, declared December 26th as National Whiner’s Day in the hope that. . . ? You guessed it, people would stop complaining and instead practice gratitude with a side of giving thanks.
Can’t blame a guy for trying.
And so, on this day of Thanksgiving, as we sit down with family and friends to eat the ham and roast beast, it is a day to give thanks for all of the many blessings we have, both large and small and everything in-between.
I can do that . . . I’m not sure how I feel about it. . . but I’m not going to complain about it.