I saw the most beautiful woman as I was shopping at Costco recently. She was shorter, maybe between 5’3’’ and 5’5’’ and had brown hair which was cut into a shaggy bob that framed her super cute face. She wore minimal makeup, enough to enhance every perfect feature. I told her how beautiful she was and she smiled, which, if it were possible, made her look even prettier.
I assumed she was into fitness because she was wearing black exercise capris, yellow tennis shoes, and a lightweight black jacket that hung loosely around her shoulders. Her skin-tight shirt underneath was thin and almost revealed what looked like 6-pack abs. The contents of her shopping basket only added to what seemed to be a very real interest in health. She had organic lettuce, organic carrots, vitamins, and some sort of healthy granola cereal.
We parted ways, but only for a few minutes. Our paths crossed again in the dairy corner where she was loading skim milk into her cart. I told her (again) how pretty I thought she was, which might seem like overkill, but I try to say compliments as I think them and she just had a way of making me think them!
My husband and I finished shopping and made our way to the check-out area where we found the shortest line we could. The beautiful fitness girl was done shopping also and got in line right behind us. This time she was talking on her cell phone to someone so I didn’t tell her (again) any of the compliments that came to my mind (like her cute shoes…adorable hair…beautiful smile…)
Instead I sat still while we waited to check out. In the pause, I overheard some of her conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line.
“Go ahead,” she coaxed. “Just do it. You’ll feel so much better.”
The language was intriguing. What should the person on the end of the line do???
“Tell me all about it.” She continued. “You deserve a release, don’t hold in your thoughts. So what if they’re not perfectly positive, at least you’ll get them out, right? You’ll feel so much better…”
I suddenly realized that the beautiful fitness girl was encouraging the person on the other end of the line to complain about something. I stopped listening and focused on loading my groceries onto the checkout counter, but I kept hearing her say things like “venting is healthy…venting is good for you…go ahead and vent…” and similar things a few more times.
And suddenly this beautiful fitness girl wasn’t quite so beautiful.
I remembered a time from when I was a 6-year-old kid. We’d just moved to Idaho and were picking my Grandmother up from the airport. It was Christmastime and I was eating out of a big bag of holiday M&Ms. When my grandmother was situated in the car and we began driving home, I offered her some. I remember her smiling, she had the biggest smile, and chuckling as she shook her head and waved away my outstretched handful of candies. I remember it clearly and can still hear her old-lady-from-Texas voice, “No, darlin’. If I start eating those, I just don’t know when to stop.”
I think “venting” is the M&M of language. I think venting, or, more accurately stated, complaining, might feel like a sweet release, but once we get a taste for it, it is difficult to stop.
I have heard people defend venting – vehemently – saying it is better to verbally purge so we don’t keep those feelings trapped inside. However, even though this argument might seem right, it is very wrong and venters/complainers experience the opposite effect they were seeking.
Instead of releasing bad feelings by complaining, the brain actually rewires itself to make complaining easier and easier. Steven Parton explains how this happens:
“Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about. It’s very similar to how nerves carry electric from the sensation in your toe all the way up to your brain where it’s actually “felt”. Here’s the kicker: Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.” (http://psychpedia.blogspot.com.cy/2015/11/the-science-of-happiness-why.html)
Just like eating M&Ms makes eating more M&Ms easier, venting makes more venting easier. Once you begin to complain, your brain begins to rewire itself to make complaining the easiest, quickest, and most common response for you. It is important here to note that this is the same brain reaction for positivity. When we choose to react with gratitude, love, and positivity our brain makes those connections be the fastest.
But when we don’t choose gratitude, love, and positivity and instead reach for a handful of emotional M&Ms our physical (and not just our emotional) health suffers. Steven Parton says “When your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you’re weakening your immune system; you’re raising your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and a plethora of other negative ailments.”
Additionally, when someone binges on the M&Ms of language, they can’t help but offer it to those who are willing to listen. Our brain tries to imitate the behaviors we observe, which is fun when we share excitement during birthdays or concerts, but not so fun when we are observing someone who is venting. They might be the ones chowing down on emotional M&Ms, but just LISTENING is emotionally unhealthy.
The beautiful fitness girl seemed to have a good grasp on the elements needed to stay healthy…except inside the pocket of her workout clothes she seemed to have an oversize bag of emotional M&Ms that she was offering to her friend over the phone.
There are A LOT of things we can complain about in this life – no, in this DAY. Emotional M&Ms surround us. You’ll find them lying on the floor next to the socks your kids didn’t pick up (again). You’ll see them in the parking lot on top of every car that’s in your spot. They’re sold by the pound on Mondays at work and by 10-pound bags by your coworkers who call in sick. We tend to keep a little handful in our pocket at church and school juuuuust in case we get munchy…
And no matter how healthy, how fit, how many 6-pack abs, or how organic your carrots are, when we choose to eat those vent-filled M&Ms we find ourselves emotionally obese.
This month I am celebrating 14 years of being in a wheelchair. It seems like just yesterday I was walking and dancing and using chopsticks and yet, on the other paralyzed hand, it seems like a lifetime ago. I am not any kind of guru or master and I don’t claim any special knowledge, but I do know one thing. And what I know is that a handful of melt-in-your-mouth M&Ms (the real kind) don’t weigh me down nearly as fast or as much as just fifteen seconds of binge eating the emotional M&Ms by complaining.
By choosing to chuckle, smile, and wave away the emotional M&Ms we’re offered throughout the day, we discover a new level of health that isn’t offered by any gym, plastic surgeon, or even Costco. When we choose healthier language by expressing love and gratitude we are free from the weight of negativity that venting offers and we are truly emotionally fit.
Keep on Rollin’ (with gratitude, love, and positivity!),
Header Picture “83/365” on Amy Loves Yah Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)