Can we all just shut up and let people enjoy stuff?
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When I was on my gap year at 18, doing mathematical gymnastics to work out how to survive in central London on my meagre hospitality wage, half a planet away from anyone I knew, I would sit in my revolting hostel and listen to new guests pile in. Ears pricked, desperate for someone to talk to, I got pretty good at picking out someone’s nationality through their timbre, before their accent could even become clear. Giddy, confident, talking so quickly you’d be awed by their lung capacity: Spanish teenagers. Loud and zealous: American students. Whiny: Australians. Always.
We love to whinge. It’s our national pastime. Unlike cricket (boring), barbecuing (weather-dependent), surfing (sharks live in the ocean, are you insane?), or even protesting (perfected by the French, made exhausting by the wave of people still clogging up the Melbourne CBD every weekend over issues I can’t keep track of), there’s nothing we as a people enjoy more than congregating in the office kitchen, or hive-minding in the comments section of this newspaper’s Facebook page to complain. And why not? It feels great.
Why risk the mortifying ordeal of sharing something you love, when you can just as easily pick a widely loathed topic and be flooded with dopamine as people agree with you, validate you, make you feel seen and heard and understood, all for the price of a grumble you would have had for free.
God knows I’m guilty of it. I’ve complained about dating straight men, celebrity greenwashing, Christmas movies, body image standards, ageing, travel shows and more in this very column. Next time you open your paper, I’ll be complaining about something new. I’m doing it right now! Hello hypocrisy, my old friend.
But sometimes it’s a bit much. Sometimes, in rare moments of optimism, I have to ask: can we just let people enjoy things?
It’s daunting, every time you find something you love, to know that people are out there looking to tell you it’s wrong, or stupid, or that you ought to be ashamed of your enjoyment of it. It wouldn’t be such an issue if we didn’t go out of our way to drag things down. “Who cares?”: the perfect response to anything that doesn’t perfectly align with your views and interests, so infuriated that something interrupts our perfectly curated targeted advertising bubbles.
Why do we love to complain about everything?Credit: iStock
And it’s always over something aggressively harmless. TikTok trends. Oat milk’s meteoric rise. The inexplicable resurgence of low-rise jeans and Y2K fashion. The chokehold that lowbrow reality television has on free-to-air television. Silly little desserts, pop music, caring a little too much about social media, calling your pets your babies. It’s all so inconsequential. Who cares?
I like to imagine this faceless antagonist sitting in their dark home office, turned puce with simmering rage in the blue light of their multiple screens, teeth grinding down to nubs with unrepressed frustration that somewhere out there, a person they have never met lives their best life, blissfully unaware of this ire.
Next time you see a trend, person, or article you don’t like and feel the compulsion to elbow your way in and proudly announce your dissent, ask yourself: why am I so upset? Am I a cranky toddler with a data plan? Do I need a snack and a little sleep?
Of course, the suggestion that always follows is this: harden up. Enjoy your pastimes, shows, clothes, habits and decline to engage with an internet stranger’s negativity. (Who cares? Who cares? Who cares?)
Next time you feel the compulsion to proudly announce your dissent, ask yourself: why am I so upset?
First of all: you aren’t my therapist. I’m not here to learn healthy coping techniques and emotional regulation; I’m here to complain about complaining. Second of all: why is it anyone’s job to deal with an onslaught of negative commentary they didn’t invite? Why is the onus on us to build a Teflon shell of indifference, and not on naysayers to mind their own business?
Look, some things are worth complaining about. Inequality. Oppression. Kyle Sandilands. Climate change. The rental crisis. Return-to-office mandates.
A difference of opinion, healthy debate: these things are necessary to spur on social progress, to inform or strengthen our views, to keep life interesting. As good as it feels to bob around in your echo chamber, your own faultless opinions endlessly echoed back at you, consensus can get a little boring. Familiarity breeds contempt. Ask anyone with an older sibling: pushback, gentle bullying — it’s good for your growth. It keeps you humble.
But as I shyly fold over the cover of my soppy romance read on the train, hold myself to a strict limit to the number of Instagram stories I can share every day, and nod through my colleague’s insistence that being excited about the Met Gala red carpet coverage is a lesson in brain-cell deterioration, I get as irked as my imaginary antagonist, and I want to shout to my countrymen: Let people enjoy things!
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