“The Struggle” Might Just Be Real

Kelvin Noronha
Thinking Caps
knoronha@ucsd.edu
Kelvin Noronha Thinking Caps [email protected]
Kelvin Noronha Thinking Caps knoronha@ucsd.edu
Kelvin Noronha
Thinking Caps
[email protected]

Given the amount I complain on a daily basis, one would think I was being exposed to linear algebra, nails on a chalkboard and spinach all at once. And yet, my most pressing first-world problems usually have something to do with how long it takes my iTunes album art to load or with the mildly annoying shuffling noises from the apartment upstairs.

It’s obvious that my problems are rather pathetic in the scheme of things. I have an absurdly comfy bed with a roof over my head, limbs and a brain that occasionally functions and the distinct pleasure of signing a 92092 postal code. Rather justifiably, my disconsolate whining tends to irritate my parents and friends. In my defense, though, it turns out that complaining is one of our most favored forms of communication; without it, we could all just be sad, social outcasts.

University of Louisville psychologist Michael Cunningham attributes our tendency to grumble to the warning shouts that our early human predecessors would give when under attack. Although that seems a far cry from the exasperated sigh I give when forced to wait in line for a burrito, complaining — and, more broadly, pointing out everything wrong with the world — is usually a reliable way to start a conversation.

For those of us who scoff at the usual small talk comments on the week’s events and the Chargers’ record, it’s easy to catch a stranger’s attention and start a chat by pointing out something like a drafty window. You’re shivering, they’re shivering, and a conversation has been struck up, even if it’s just a cascade of complaints about how shoddy construction was in the 1990s. Pointing out life’s flaws tends to unite people, whether it’s over the length of Goody’s queues or over the ironic fact that Thanksgiving break shoved your essay due date forward one week.

Voicing dissatisfaction also has purpose beyond breaking the ice. In some respect, it acts as a sort of stress relief; it allows us to vent about our frustrations, significant or otherwise. And as soon as we can relate to the problems of others, we jump into the discussion with alacrity, eager to share our own vexing experiences. We happily assure ourselves that there are others out there who feel the same way or sympathize, and a burden is lifted from our shoulders.

Interestingly enough, companies’ marketing strategies manipulate our inner complainer with good results. Ads often mention common annoyances, followed in short order by a $59.95-plus-shipping solution. We evaluate our lives and agree that we do in fact suffer from inadequately absorbent paper towels, snarky credit card service employees and high-interest bail bonds. And right away, the product for sale draws our fancy.

While it can lure us into purchases we might regret later, finding faults is often a surprisingly versatile tool — it helps us connect with others and can even occasionally lead to positive change. It’s just important to remember that if the biggest problem facing us at the moment is an annoying song playing on the radio, our lives are pretty awesome.

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