Online Misery Is Optional


You see folks complaining and barking at the littlest things online. Everything sucks, nothing is right, new technology is turning the Internet into a cesspool, on and on. They are miserable, at least in the moment.

Then there are the serial complainers. Every day is an opportunity to rain on another person’s parade.

In the zen tradition, constant negativity and complaining reveals an inner turmoil or sadness, a seed of negativity that’s shared with the world. But that sadness is often embraced, and not necessarily forced upon the miserable.

I have some friends who like to say when one of us complains too much that misery is optional. They mean it’s a choice to be miserable.

Consider these online scenarios…

People like to complain and gossip about others, particularly what they said or what they deserve or how they are perceived as in our little online world. But who chooses to read and follow that person, only to complain about them? If someone annoys you, why wouldn’t you unsubscribe and stop talking about them?

A new technology or company is wrong and hurts society. OK then, stop using it. How many times do we hear the scathing criticism followed by a kitty pic. If you keep using bad online tools that violate privacy, etc., who is to blame?

Put two people in a room and you have politics. Sometimes people are or feel screwed over. OK, you got screwed, are you going to complain the rest of your life and blame X? Or are you going to get up, and move on (with or without X)? BTW, this is the hardest of scenarios to resolve because the anger is often or perceived to be justified.

The Internet changes, and things aren’t the same. Isn’t that life, though, not just online? And if we don’t change with the times, what happens to us? We’re left behind.

You can add to the list of endless scenarios in the comments.

What the examples show are choices. Online misery is rarely seen as an act of self determination, but the outcome results from personal decisions.

Complaining All the Time

Image by artukus
Image by artukus

Look, everyone complains. I do it.

When complaining becomes the overriding tone in my life, a part of every aspect of my online commentary, etc., I realize my error. I placed myself in a self perpetuating state of misery.

Often, I will find myself surrounded by others in the same state… After all, misery loves company. Let’s go down on the ship together!

I don’t want to be an angry miserable person.

That’s why I consciously try to catch and stop myself from bashing things or people online. Instead, I prefer pursuing new paths, better solutions and different conversations. It’s better to move on than stay, and die on the vine.

When I stop complaining and focus on answers or just something altogether different, I find peace and happiness. It’s a choice to explore rather than kvetch. This experience supports Abraham Lincoln’s classic observation, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

I have compassion for the constant complainer. Been there, and I’ll probably be back sometime in the future, but man, I don’t envy that feeling, that brooding sense of malaise.

What do you think? Is online misery optional?

34 Replies to “Online Misery Is Optional”

  1. I also fall into that trap sometimes, but what I really have been finding bothersome lately is that when I post happy things, people still feel the need to be snarky or to, as I say, “poop all over it.” If you want to be miserable by your own self, that’s cool, but imposing your dark cloud on others is something I generally try to stray away from :)

    1. Or even better, when they post or blog passively aggressively about it. And yes, I am guilty of this,too.

      My best advice on this my friend is to ignore them. Sometimes the most negative voices seem to be the commanding ones, but in reality, many people see this negativity for what it is. Smiling in the face of backwards comments is the best lesson we can offer.

  2. I would say that all misery is optional (if you really want to get Zen about things). I know some people who have come through some really awful situations (and some who are currently going through some too) who do so with a sense of positivity and awareness that I find amazing. They don’t complain, they just get on with it. That is, however the hard way to do it.

    Complaining is the easy thing to go to. It’s the easiest way to get the “me too” that is the raison d’être for many people to spend time online. The posts that get the comments are often negative rather than something neutral or positive. If one requires constant validation in their life, then they’ll go to what works.

    All that to say that in general the chronic complainers are the ones who get blocked from my stream most quickly. Because I don’t have time to listen to whining in person, and I definitely can’t be bothered to hear it online.

    1. Yes, I agree with you that they get the most visible feedback and attention. It’s short-term fix for a long-term problem that self perpetuates though. In the end, it reminds me of the drunk at the bar always talking about the way things will be when they do X, but that drunk simply returns the next day, complaining some more.

      I also think they get the most negative outcome,and find themselves isolated in groups and cliques of negativity, creating as backlash and cutting themselves off from bigger better things. For like you, I unsubscribe, and I know we are not alone.

  3. Interesting take Geoff.

    (Before I forget – I’m stealing your image as a profile pic – just sayin’).

    I definitely have bouts of serial complaininess – some deeper or longer than others. IMHO it sucks that Google reader is shutting down, and it sucks worse that instead of just saying ‘we couldn’t monetize it’ the company claims not enough people were using it. I’m hoping this winterfest lasts as long as possible and deplore spring and summer.

    If I see someone misform the comma-quotation mark choreography I get agita.

    Mostly though – it’s because I’m an optimist. I think, no rather – I know, things (everything) can be better and by fixing those things are not ‘on’ can make them that way. I see what could be, where the faults are, and try to get them, if not perfect, then better.

    1. Yeah, you know, I was nonplussed about the Reader thing, but I decided to roll with it, only because I felt like complaining would fall on deaf ears, that Google had made up its mind. To your point, 3 million people joined Feedly afterwards, so if that’s not enough for Google, well then, let’s make Feedly rich. Make them the winner, rather than us the loser.

  4. Nice one Geoff. The mind is an amazing tool. It can turn a hell into heaven or heaven into hell. Complaints that are empty, with no added value or course of action, will make you more miserable than the worst circumstances.

  5. Good post. I want to flag the middle path, which you just hinted at here. As I see it, we have three broad choices we can make:

    1) Complain or grump about it.
    2) Work to change it.
    3) Walk away (ignorance is bliss)

    When I find that I can’t get away from something, it just keeps dragging me down into complaining or misery, I’m trying to turn myself towards changing it. Present the other side and be a respectful (but passionate) contrarian.

    Too often we try to do #3 instead, without some outlet for our passion about a topic, we just get dragged back into misery.

  6. Great post, Geoff – in my view, misery is always optional. And it’s the miserable who suffer, at the end of the day. Choose to be happy, I say :)

  7. Sooth.

    I could go on and on about this, but I think Jack Baruth exemplified it best in a recent post on The Truth About Cars. Probably the best thing I’ve read online so far this year. (If you must skim, jump to just before the block quotes, but I recommend the whole thing.)

    Best way to neutralize negativity is to focus on personal achievement. Doesn’t matter if 99% of the people in the world are content to accept lowest common denominator conglomerate pandering. When you see that you can make a difference in someone’s life – the only thing worth making, by the way – you soon forget all about how much the status quo sucks.

    1. Absolutely, and it gets back to what we can control, and what we cannot. The only thing within our domain is our own actions. Cheers! Hope you are well!

  8. True, there are many people who are serial complainers. But I think we over simplify it when we say “get over it”, “move on” or “choose to be happy”. Generally when people complain in cyberspace, it is my belief, that they feel like they have no voice in their real life. The keyboard + the invisible faces on the other side allow for a sort of lack of inhibition allowing people to speak freely in a way they cannot in their life. People feel stuck. They don’t see any way to change the circumstance they are speaking of and the internet allows them a platform of sorts to speak to hundreds of people about how they really feel.
    I don’t begrudge anyone speaking their feelings. I actually cannot stand a faker. Someone who puts up a grand front saying everything is perfect when it is absolutely not. Feel how you feel, Say what you want. If your people can’t take it they really aren’t your friends. And for those whiney people who can’t take anything but a perfect you I say open your eyes, show some compassion. Don’t you realise that when someone complains like this there is an incredible well of pain inside? Be a friend. A real friend.

    1. Thank you for expressing this. While I do think it’s great that everyone has an opinion, everyone expresses it, and it’s not always pretty.

      I think people take license with it, they say things that they’d never to your face, maybe because as you say, they feel they can’t in real life. I see this all the time on Facebook, and I find it caustic. But I don’t mix it up with them, two wrongs don’t make a right, and some people mature in time with their own experience.

      And as you say, there may be pain there, thus the line about compassion. But I don’t have to suffer through someone else’s pain. Real friends are present when they are asked to be, not when randomly spewed upon, in my opinion. So I tune out. Just my $.02. Thanks again for coming by.

      1. For the record I rarely complain online. I suffer with a brain tumor and an autoimmune disease but I know that nobody wants to hear it and so I rarely say anything unless I am in the hospital. People prefer a happy me and so that is what I give regardless of how I am feeling (which is rarely good). I do think that your point of people taking license to say things online they would never say to your face is a very real phenomenom. For those people I see a person out of control in their life that is lacking in satisfying relationships. First, I don’t think you or I should be subject to anyone’s abuse, online or otherwise. However, it may be helpful (if we decide to keep this person in our circles) to tuck that knowledge away and do something for them that may show them somebody cares. Maybe a simple card or flowers or baking a meal or even a kind word (NOT when they are acting out of line). These are the things that can change a person’s day or even week. Imagine if no one cares (if that’s what they think) and they get a random delivery of cookies from your family. It could change everything. That one thing.
        Thank you for allowing my posts. This is a very compelling discussion.

        1. Wow, that’s serious! God speed with your health. That’s real stuff, well beyond this conversation. I’ll keep you in my prayers. And now I feel like a turd for complaining about someone being late earlier today.

  9. One of my favourite quotes comes courtesy of my late grandfather: “A committee should have an odd number of members. And three is too many.” As you say Geoff, people = politics.

    I personally think there are too many amazing and wonderful developments and innovations happening around us to waste time fixating on the negative. I also think it’s a shame when businesses think the best way to move up is to highlight their competitors’ flaws. Focus on what you do well, and leave it at that.

    If you don’t like something, move on. Life’s too short.

  10. I absolutely think online misery is optional. Why on earth would anyone want to surround themselves with people who do nothing but grump? Of course, the opposite of sunshine and roses all of the time also is annoying. How about we just be real and be kind to one another? Perhaps that’s too much to ask?

  11. Absolutely agree it is optional. My struggles are when strong political issues/elections come up…and people put on their boxing gloves and blinders. They want to put forth their strong views, and discount the very intelligence of any opposition.

    My struggle is that these same people are often very insightful and caring at other times…they just have a trigger that makes you think seriously about unfollowing. Usually, I just try to blow over those statuses and wait for common sense to prevail.

    1. I hear you, my friend. I literally avoided Facebook for months because of the election. It was bloody awful. I did find people were stronger and better on other networks sans the political BS. ;)

      Thanks again for having me on Hecklers Hangout.

      1. You were an awesome sport on Hecklers’ Hangout, Geoff. I know it was chaotic, but I really wanted to bring some of the SoSlam action to the hecklers who couldn’t make it.

        We gotta meet IRL some day. I am sure the topics of discussion would be lively…and not as poisonous as some of those FB political discussions.

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  13. I wish you had written this way back when I did a very short stint at J Walter Thompson in San Francisco. Everyone complained about everything. That office doesn’t exist any more.

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