Kvetching for Better Health

Kvetching for Better Health (<i>cont'd</i>)

5. In Praise of Kvetching

Held's mission is to encourage people to accept that they don't have to be happy—or pretend to be happy—all of the time. She believes that it's okay to complain as long as you have a willing listener, you do it in moderation, and you are sensitive to the listener. "And give other people the right to kvetch as well—don't hog all the kvetching. What we want is a balance of kvetching," she says with a laugh.

Optimism is Okay, Too

Held complains—okay, kvetches—that her research is often misunderstood as promoting pessimism. She denies that, noting that some people are naturally more optimistic than others, and that just as pessimism doesn't work for optimists, it's not fair to force optimism on pessimists. She believes that being pessimistic doesn't mean you have a problem, and doesn't mean you can't be happy—it's just a coping strategy that works for you.

"I'm pessimistic, but I'm a happy person," she reports. People tend to be either "strategic optimists" or "defensive pessimists," she explains. "Defensive pessimists like me like to think ahead of all the things that can go wrong and then plan and when they're allowed to do that, they function as well as the strategic optimists. Strategic optimists don't want to think about what could go wrong."

Complaining may not be considered a virtue in the Land of the Positive Attitude, but it should at least be socially acceptable so that kvetchers don't have to mask their true selves, Held believes. Through creative kvetching and respect for the listener, she hopes this will change.

"I won't claim kvetching will make you physically healthier or make radical changes in your mental health, but it may make you a little less miserable, and given how hard life is, that's not so bad," she says.