Another Gallic grizzle, sigh

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014

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OPINION: My yoga instructor always says: "Sigh deeply, it is good for you. It releases frustrations." I agree wholeheartedly, and sigh as often as possible. But I have noticed Kiwis sigh less than Europeans. They complain less, too.

As a reporter, I talk to people who are struggling one way or another regularly, and I am often amazed at how reluctant Cantabrians are to complain. "It could be worse," they say, or "I'm trying to remain positive". Yet, Cantabrians have many valid reasons to complain: floods, battles with insurance and the Earthquake Commission, impossible rental prices, wages that don't go up as fast as grocery prices do.

The Press reported last week that psychiatric presentations to the CDHB were at an all-time high, with emergency services fielding a 35 per cent increase of new patients over the past two years.

I asked a local psychotherapist, James Driver, if complaining could help release frustrations. He said that part of maintaining mental health was finding a balance between accepting things as they are, and making an effort to change the things that really matter to us.

"Complaining too much or too little is unlikely to help us with either," he said.

I don't have a problem with complaining too little, but can see how my grumblings might not always be productive.

As one of my colleagues said, it can make everyone miserable, including the grumbler.

So when Nick tells me to "stop whining" about New Zealand's changing weather, for example, he has a point. We can't change the weather and I should take responsibility for not bringing an extra jumper.

Sometimes, my laments are more legitimate. For example, my house is so cold in the winter that Nick and I have to wear down jackets and hats inside on some evenings, and my heavy sighs become visible in the morning. Great if you want to pretend to be a dragon. Not so great if you want comfort.

In New Zealand, it seems almost a point of pride not to feel the cold. Shows how tough you are. But I think we can agree that - even if you're tough enough to hack it - it's not actually good to be cold.

What if more people complained about the cold more often? Would the existing stock of cold, damp houses be upgraded more quickly? So you'd think I could be forgiven for telling Nick how cold our house is in winter. But Nick does not see it that way. His answer?

"HTFU my love, HTFU." Which he told me means "harden the French up".

I get similar responses to this column every week in the comments section online. Inevitably (and ironically) several commenters complain about my complaining. Yes, I complain about sexist wedding traditions, my commute and my house being cold. Does complaining make my house warmer or my commute shorter? No. But at least I can voice my frustration and from there actively look for solutions - be it a better heater or moving houses. Not complaining is the best way to avoid solving a problem.

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And in a city where the quakes have widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots, it is vital that people open up about the difficulties they are facing. How else can we help each other? How else can we hope for better accountability from governments and private powers? Cantabrians whose homes are knee-deep in water following the floods don't just need to HTFU and buy gumboots. They have every right to complain. Some have already and I hope more do.

- Fairfax Media

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