Book Review: A Complaint Free World

I first heard about Will Bowen’s book A Complaint Free World when I read this post by Tim Ferris. The concept behind the book is blisteringly simple: see if you can go 21 days without complaining, gossiping or criticising. If you lapse at any point then reset the day-count to zero and start over again. Bowen’s theory is that, once you have managed 21days, then not complaining will have become a habit. He also makes a compelling case to say that if you stop complaining you will be a more successful and happy person.

I’m going to try it. In fact, I’ve already started. I mean, what is there to lose? Either I feel even better after 21 days or I don’t in which case I can throw the book in the bin with nothing lost. Initially I thought “21 days – how hard can it be?”

As it turns out, harder than you might imagine.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not known as the worlds biggest complainer. My girlfriend even asked me why I was bothering: “You don’t complain much anyway do you?” But so far I haven’t even managed a day without letting some kind of complaint slip out!

In case you are wondering here is what counts as a complaint:

  • Anytime you express dissatisfaction about something (i.e. state or imply that something should be different to how it is)
  • Anytime you gossip about someone (which means saying anything with the intent of criticising someone else behind their back)
  • Anytime you criticise someone (i.e say something like “You shouldn’t code like that” )

However there are some very subtle things that are allowed. You can express a feeling. So, for example, you can say “Jill shouted at me today and it made me feel upset” but not “Jill is such a cow, she flew off the handle at me again today”. Similarly you can ask for something to be changed. So saying “This soup is cold. Please could you warm it up?” is fine but not “How dare you serve me cold soup?”.

So there are the rules. Off you go and good luck. Let me know when you make 21 days!

By now you are probably thinking “Wow David, you have summarised the book so well that I don’t think I need to buy my own copy and read it now”. And you’d be right. There isn’t much more to it. However what I would say is that this relatively short read includes some wonderful (and some slightly whacky) anecdotes that I really enjoyed. Beyond that it also has some super quotations, the best of which I would like to use to conclude this post:

“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo

“Anyone who uses the phrase ‘easy as taking candy from a baby’ has never tried taking candy from a baby” – Unknown

“Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship” – Zeuxis

And best of all he cites this classic Monty Python sketch to illustrate how we all love to upstage each other with our complaining (you may prefer to watch this on YouTube rather than read it here):

“You were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in a corridor!”

“Oh we used to dream of living in a corridor! We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woke up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us!”

Culminating in:

“I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down in a mill, and pay the mill owner for permission to come to work. And when we got home, our dad and our mother would kill us and dance on our graves singing Hallelujah.”


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