Elul Reflections: 9 Elul 5779

I have a friend from rabbinical school, Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer and he has a blog called “Religion Outside the Box.” Each week he posts his thoughts and issues about which he is thinking and it was there I was introduced to Reverend Will Bowen and his “21 day no complaint challenge.”

Reverend Bowen was the minister of a small church in Kansas and he was running a series about prosperity when he realised that everyone felt that they were not prosperous enough, they wanted more. Yet despite this, all they did was complain about what they actually did have. So he decided to do something about it. He knew that doing an action for 21 days straight changes behaviour. So he created a batch of 500 rubber bracelets and handed them out to his congregation and set them a challenge: go for 21 days without making a complaint. Put the wristband on and every time you complain, criticize or gossip, move it to the other wrist and start the count again. Will also took up the challenge and he found it was much harder than he thought. It took him months before he went for 21 days in a row without a complaint. His congregation were similarly challenged but the word spread and before long, Will had started a revolution.

To date, 11 million people in 106 countries have taken the challenge. They have found it takes the average person 4-8 months to go for 21 days in a row without complaining. It is estimated that on average, we make 15-30 complaints a day and 30-40% of our conversations consist of complaining. Will notes that complaining has become a competitive sport, we try to outdo one another with our list of complaints. And when we complain, our brain activity is rewired, we find it harder to find the positive and dwell more on the negative parts of our lives. Unchecked, this can spiral and place us in a world of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. But when we remove the complaints and negativity the opposite happens, we are happier, more content with our lives and find gratitude in what we do have rather than focusing on what we don’t have.

I remember reading about a woman who wanted to compliment someone for the service she received at a department store. She called the store and asked for the place where she could lodge her praise. The operator did not know where to send her. There was a complaints department but nowhere to direct a call of satisfaction and gratitude. Sometimes I think we are a little like the department store, we have lots of outlets for lodging our complaints, lots of ways to find the negative, which obstructs our ability to find the good. So perhaps this Elul, this month of reflection is the time for us to join the revolution and take up the “21 day no complaint challenge” and see how we go, enter into the new year in a place of gratitude and positivity rather than complaints. My goal is to complete the challenge before the next Elul! Good luck and may your year ahead be filled with happiness, blessings and gratitude.

-- Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW

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