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Want to Feel Less Stressed and More Focused? Why Science Says Emotionally Intelligent People Follow the Rule of No Complaints

Every group has one: The person who, no matter what happens,refuses to complain. Who, no matter how frustrating the situation, refuses to vent.

But also, truth be told, a tad irritating to the rest of us. After all, we’re taught to vent, because venting is good for us: Holding it all in will eventually cause us to blow.

Science says that person — the one who never complains — is definitely on to something. According to research published in 2015 in European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychologycomplaining actually makes you feel worse.

“Discussing events immediately during or after they occur forces the brain to re-live or ‘rehearse’ the negative emotional response,” the researchers write. “This creates a stronger association in memory, exaggerating the influence of the emotional episode.”

Or in simpler terms, complaining about a negative event actually cements the incident in your mind. Instead of helping you to move on, complaining causes the negative feelings to bleed over into other areas of your life. The researchers found that people who complained were in a worse mood, felt less satisfaction and pride in the work they were doing… and were significantly more likely to feel less happy and experience poorer self-esteem the next day as well.

Add it all up and complaining makes you feel worse today and worse tomorrow.

Why? The researchers think complaining about a negative event is like experiencing the same thing twice — once when it happened, and again during the retelling — and two bad experiences are always worse than one. Complaining also tends to cause a ripple effect: I complain, you complain, we both tell each other how badly something sucks… and now whatever happened seems even worse. 

Either way, complaining doesn’t help.

That doesn’t mean the only response to a negative situation is to simply grin and bear it. Nor does it mean you just have to suck it up.

So instead of wasting energy by complaining, blow off that steam by talking about how you’ll make things better. What you’ll do next time. What you won’t do next time. Into ensuring you won’t need to refrain from complaining next time because you’ll find ways to ensure you won’t be in the same situation again.

That’s the conversation you should have with other people.

Or even just with yourself.

Make staying positive — or what the researchers call embracing “sportsmanlike” behaviors — a skill, one you improve through practice and repetition.

When the people around you complain, listen. Empathize. And then help them shift their focus to finding ways to improve the situation.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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