Fretting And Grumbling
( Originally Published 1879 )
MANY ANY very excellent persons, whose lives are honorable and whose characters are noble, pass numberless hours of sadness and weariness of heart. The fault is not with their circumstances, nor yet with their general characters, but with themselves that they are miserable. They have failed to adopt the true philosophy of life. They wait for happiness to come instead of going to work and making it; and while they wait they torment themselves with borrowed troubles, with fears, forebodings, morbid fancies and moody spirits, till they are all unfitted for happiness under any circumstances. Sometimes they cherish unchaste ambition, covet some fancied or real good which they do not deserve and could not enjoy if it were theirs, wealth they have not earned, honors they have not won, attentions they have not merited, love which their selfishness only craves. Sometimes they undervalue the good they do possess; throw away the pearls in hand for some beyond their reach, and often less valuable; trample the flowers about them under their feet; long for some never seen, but only heard or read of; and forget present duties and joys in future and far-off visions. Sometimes they shade the present with every cloud of the past, and although surrounded by a thousand inviting duties and pleasures, revel in sad memories with a kind of morbid relish for the stimulus of their miseries. Sometimes, forgetting the past and present, they live in the future, not in its probable realities, but in its most improbable visions and unreal creations, now of good and then of evil, wholly unfitting their minds for real life and enjoyments. These morbid and improper states of-mind are too prevalent among some persons. They excite that nervous 'irritability which is so productive of pining regrets and fretful complaints. They make that large class of fretters who enjoy no peace themselves, nor permit others to enjoy it. In the domestic circle they fret their life away. Everything goes wrong with them because they make it so. The smallest annoyances chafe them as though they were unbearable aggravations. Their business and duties trouble them as though such things were not good. Pleasure they never seem to know because they never get ready to enjoy it. Even the common movements of Providence are all wrong with them. The weather is never as it should be. The seasons roll on badly. The sun is never properly tempered. The climate is always charged with a multitude of vices. The winds are everlastingly perverse, either too high or too low, blowing dust in everybody's face, or not fanning them as they should. The earth is ever out of humor, too dry or too wet, too muddy or dusty. And the people are just about like it. Something is wrong all the time, and the wrong is always just about them. Their home is the worst of anybody's; their street and their neighborhood is the most unpleasant to be found ; nobody else has so bad servants and so many annoyances as they. Their lot is harder than falls to common mortals; they have to work harder and always did; have less and always expect to. They have seen more trouble than other folks know anything about. They tire never so well as their neighbors, and they always charge all their unhappiness upon those nearest connected with them, never dreaming that they are themselves the authors of it all. Such people are to be pitied. Of all the people in the world they deserve most our compassion. They are good people in many respects, very benevolent, very conscientious, very pious, but, withal, very annoying to themselves and others. As a general rule, their goodness makes them more difficult to cure of their evil. They cannot be led to see that they are at fault. Knowing their virtues they cannot see their faults. They do not, perhaps, overestimate their virtues; but they fail to see what they lack, and this they always charge upon others, often upon those who love them best. They see others actions through the shadow of their own fretful and gloomy spirits. Hence it is that they see their own faults as existing in those about them, as a defect in the eye produces the appearance of a corresponding defect in every object toward which it is turned. This defect in character is more generally the result of vicious or improper habits of mind, than any constitutional idiosyncrasy. It is the result of the indulgence of gloomy thoughts, morbid fancies, inordinate ambition, habitual melancholy, a complaining, fault finding disposition.
A fretting man or woman is one of the most unlovable objects in the world. A wasp is a comfortable house -mate in comparison ; it only stings when disturbed. But an habitual fretter buzzes if he don't sting, with or without provocation. "It is better to dwell in the corner .of a house-top than with a brawling woman and in a wide house." Children and servants cease to respect the authority or obey the commands of a complaining, worrisome, exacting parent or master. They know that "barking dogs don't bite," and fretters don't strike, and they conduct themselves accordingly.
If we are faultless, we should not be so much annoyed by the defects of those with whom we associate. If we were to acknowledge honestly that we have not virtue enough to bear patiently with our neighbors' weaknesses, we should show our own imperfection, and this alarms our vanity.
He who frets is never the one who mends, heals, or repairs evils; more, he discourages, enfeebles, and too often disables those around him, who, but for the gloom and depression of his company, would do good work and keep up brave cheer. And when the fretter is one who is beloved, whose nearness of relation to us makes his fretting, even at the weather, seem almost like a personal reproach to us, then the misery of it becomes indeed insupportable. Most men call fretting a minor fault, a foible, and not a vice. There is no vice except drunkenness which can so utterly destroy the peace, the happiness of a home. We never knew a scolding person that was able to govern a family. What makes people scold ? Because they cannot govern themselves. How can they govern others ? Those who govern well are generally calm. They are prompt and resolute, but steady.
It is not work that kills men, it is worry. Work is healthy; you can hardly put more on a man than he can bear. Worry is rust upon the blade. It is not the revolution that destroys the machinery, but the friction. Fear secretes acids, but love and trust are sweet juices. The man or woman who goes through the world grumbling and fretting, is not only violating the laws of God, but is a sinner against the peace and harmony of society, and is, and of right ought to be, shunned accordingly. They are always in hot water, forever in trouble. They throw the blame of their own misdeeds and want of judgment upon others, and if one might believe them, society would be found in a shocking state. They rail at everything, lofty or lowly, and when they have no grumbling to do they begin to deprecate. They endeavor to make good actions seem contemptible in other men's eyes, and try to belittle every noble and praiseworthy enterprise by casting suspicion upon the motives of those connected with it. Such individuals, whether men or women, are an incubus on any society, and the best way to paralyze their efforts to create discord, is to ignore them altogether. Let grumblers form a select circle by themselves. Let them herd together; give them the cold shoulder when they appear, and make them uncomfortable during their sojourn, and if they cannot be cured they may be more easily endured, and perhaps discover the error of their ways and reform.
An Englishman dearly likes, says Punch, to grumble, no matter whether he be right or wrong, crying or laughing, working or playing, gaining a victory or smarting under a national humiliation, paying or being paid—still he must grumble, and, in fact, he is never so happy as when he is grumbling ; and, supposing everything was to our satisfaction, (though it says a great deal for our power of assumption to assume any such absurd impossibility,) still he would grumble at the fact of there being nothing for him to grumble about,
There are two things about which we should never grumble: the first is that which we cannot help, and the other that which we can help.