Usually Look on the Bright Side of Life
By Bryan Caplan
[Note: This post may be better if you hum as you read.]
I am a firm believer in the view that complaining about problems usually makes them worse. I have endured my fair share of bad service in restaurants, but that is nothing compared to how much I have suffered from the futile complaints of my fellow patrons. Why complain to me? I don’t run the restaurant!
You could object that “If no one complained, nothing would improve.” But that’s hogwash. There are plenty of other mechanisms for progress. Most obviously: “If you don’t like it here, leave,” “If you don’t like it here, don’t come back,” and “If you don’t like it, change the channel.”
I missed a post by Will Wilkinson that reinforces my position. One way to deal with envy, as Layard points out, is with higher taxes. Will points out an alternative: Reform your preferences:
If you cared less about where you stood with respect to other people, then how much money I make would have less of an effect on how you feel about how much you make. This is Coase’s central insight about externalities: it takes (at least) two to tango. My relative success has no “polluting” effect whatsoever if you don’t care about it. (You’re a good Buddhist, say.)
Interesting. So while I’ve been complaining that complaining makes other people worse off, Will indirectly suggests that complaining makes you worse off. Complaining amplifies your frustration by keeping your attention focused on your grievances. Ah yes, I’ve heard complainers say that they feel better after they vent, but I doubt that works for recurring problems. You are far better cultivating the opposite mentality: “What’s the big deal?”
But isn’t it contradictory to complain about complaining?
Well, it would be if I said that complaining always makes problems worse. But I said usually. This just happens to be a convenient exception.