The No-Complaints Challenge

2020 has been a hard year for all of us, unforgettable in so many ways.  I'm looking forward to the joys of Christmas, aren't you?

My husband Jon finally has students in his classroom – well, half the class at a time, wearing masks and socially distanced.  The third graders at his school had to go back to distance learning last week because two children tested positive for COVID, so Jon realizes that his 6th grade students could be required to re-quarantine at any time.  The students with asthma and other health challenges are still at home, so he and his colleagues are trying to accommodate student learning in a variety of set-ups.  

The good news:  This situation is uncertain and stressful for everyone, but Jon has found that his colleagues are super hard-working, committed educators, and that most of the parents of his students are flexible and good-humored.

winter joy

It's been that kind of year.

My 95-year-old father-in-law recently passed away after a long battle with cancer, and some family dynamics have emerged that are less than optimal.  A few hard feelings have ensued.  

The good news:  It was sad to discover these cracks in family relationships, but lines of communication are still open, and we're doing what we can to create more understanding.

My son can now see massage clients if they have a prescription for massage therapy from their doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist.  That means he still can't work with the online referral services that brought him more than 50% of his business, so he's still scrambling to put together temporary part-time jobs that can help pay his bills.

The good news:  At least he's no longer barred from seeing clients at all.  He's able to work on long-time regular clients, and they can benefit from the increased pain-free mobility that massage provides.

Jon and I battled bed bugs this summer.  We don't even know where they came from.  After all, it's 2020 and we haven't traveled anywhere!  But there's nothing to compare with the feeling you get when the pest control technician lifts up your box spring and shows you a pod of the ugly critters huddled under the edge of the dust fabric, and you realize that hundreds of those things are likely hidden around your bedroom and the rest of the house.  OMG!

The good news:  Heat kills them, and our apartment manager quickly made arrangements for the costly treatment, which was thankfully free to us as tenants.  We came home one evening to a thermostat that read "19."  It can only show two digits, so that really meant "119," down from a high of 140 F. earlier in the day.  Thank God there are no signs of this horrible scourge since.

There's more...

Our daughter tripped down a short flight of stairs in September and broke an area on the fifth metatarsal of her right foot.  This is called a "Jones fracture," and can be very difficult to heal without surgery.  The first part of her recovery required that she put no weight on the foot at all for six weeks.  My grandsons are 20 months old and just-turned 5 years old.  Their house is a 1970's split-level, which means you can't get anywhere without going up and down stairs.  The injury keeps her from driving, too.

The good news:  It has been a struggle, and a lot of extra chores and errands have fallen on my wonderful son-in-law, Steve.  But they're into the 7th week, and Elizabeth now has a walking cast, so she's a bit more mobile.  It looks like she won't need surgery, and the cast may be removed in the first week of December.

My brother is currently in the hospital, waiting to have his infected gallbladder removed.  He's been waiting for two days so far, because the need to follow COVID protocols means that fewer non-emergency procedures get scheduled.  My sister, a nurse, isn't happy about the wait because the chances of sepsis and other complications increase the longer the infected organ remains in his body.

The good news:  We're hopeful he'll go into surgery early tomorrow.  (Update:  He did, and came through with flying colors.)

Here's the reason I'm writing about all of this.

I know I'm not the only person who can put together a list of such challenges, and I'm actually far better off than many people.  My purpose in sharing is to illustrate how much room there is for optimism and hope.

It's so easy to fall into grumbling and self-pity.  It almost seems like a game that some of us play, complaining to each other as if the one who has suffered most will get a prize.  (Don't believe me?  Just listen when a few women start sharing stories of how their children were born.)  But complaining not only fails to make the situation better, it actually does us harm.

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent, a season when Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  It's supposed to be a time to step away from a busy holiday season to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, a time to prepare our spirits to hear and receive what God offers to and asks from us.  It's a chance to remember our Savior's birth as a baby, as well as his presence in our lives today, and his promised return as judge and King.

And yet... Christians (myself included) complain.  A lot.  Whether it's about COVID restrictions, politics, the traffic, the weather, the economy, the school situation, or whatever, complaints seem to dominate almost every conversation I hear.

We just celebrated Thanksgiving Day, but what did that really mean?  We took a few hours off from our normal negative behavior and attitude, that's all.

How to stop complaining

I recently had a post published on No Sidebar which the editor titled "How I Stopped Complaining."  I promise you, that wasn't my title for the piece.  In it I described how complaining damages our brains and makes us sick.  I wrote how we might learn to complain less by

  • letting go of expectations, past hurts, and disappointments
  • spending time with positive people
  • searching for solutions to problems instead of moaning about them
  • practicing gratitude

Tomorrow is the first of December, and I plan to challenge myself to 31 days of no complaining.  Despite the title of my No Sidebar article, I have not completely kicked that habit!  

Would you like to join me?  Let's reap the benefits of less complaining – more positive interactions, more patience, more empathy, and more gratitude.

Sounds like I'll be giving myself some true Christmas joy.

Follow-up article:  Beyond Failure: How to Find More Success By Starting Again

Updated May 2023


  1. Hello wonderful Karolyn! Thank you for your content, it is like finding jewels throughout your reading. I am not a person of complaints (out loud hahaha) and yes of a lot of mental judgment, private towards others, the economy, my fears. I've managed (more or less) to keep my mouth shut and be politically correct and nice, even without being hypocritical... Ah but in my mind alone! I hit everything hard! Especially myself... I loved your 10 tips from the other post, I take note, thanks again! Love from Costa Rica.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment! Not complaining is hard, and it takes awareness, determination, and practice to change! But we don't have to be perfect - just better than before.

      Just in case you're interested, I've written some more about complaining (which you might not have seen):


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