The Complain Game

The Complain Game

Football and cycling rank among the most popular sports in Belgium, but sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t consider complaining as our favourite national sport. Even though we’re one of the most-advanced and richest countries in the world, Belgians always find something to complain about. As is clear from media outlets online, it’s not just Belgians though. These days everyone and their dog partakes in what I like to call The Complain Game.

True to the idiom “give an inch and they’ll take a mile”, or the Dutch equivalent “offer a hand and they’ll expect an arm”, many folks forgot what it means to be satisfied. Even when they have everything going for them, something’s amiss. And the best part? It’s everyone else’s but their own fault.

It’s the economy. Their co-workers. The neighbours. Society is to blame. It’s the younger generations. It’s Germany’s fault. Migrants ruin everything.

The list goes on, and on, and on.

If I were to open a newspaper on any random page, you’d think life in the West is hell on earth. In reality this couldn’t be farther from the truth. At no point in the history of our planet has a civilization or society enjoyed greater privileges than we do right now.

Kings and queens, people at the top of the food chain as little as 200 years ago, would probably offer up their kingdom for a horse the luxuries we currently take for granted. If Napoleon had the choice between the convenience of a modern super market or conquering all of Europe, you can bet on it that he would have picked the former.

Compared to the rest of the world, chances are moreover that you’re part of the elusive and exclusive 1%, a term shunned by the Occupy Wall Street movement. With my average worker’s salary I’m already in the top 1.07% of richest people in the world by income. At only 25 I furthermore belong to the top decile richest earthlings by wealth.

And I didn’t have to jump through hoops or do anything earth-shattering for it.

We are some of the luckiest people on earth because of the simple fact that we were born in the right place at the right time. We as a society have succeeded in institutionalising that luck by providing social security, general health care, and other types of government benefits. However, at the same time we have entrenched what many feel is an absolute and individualistic right to these benefits.

I’m all for societal services and government schemes, but whatever happened to a little self-reliance and self-empowerment? Reliance on your own powers and resources rather than those of others surely must go a long way in Western life and society, irrespective of the actions of others around you.

During the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay on self-reliance in which he concluded that “in order to be happy and peaceful, one should not care about the consumerism but should focus on his own situation.” And right he was. There will always be someone who enjoys a (subjectively) better life than you do, so why focus on what others have or do?

Stop complaining about others and focus on your own situation.

The long lost art of being self-reliant or self-dependent, which I’m mainly trying to achieve through financial means, makes for a great solution to life’s little complaints.  Of course, full self-reliance constitutes a pipe-dream in our current society, but we can nevertheless go a long way ourselves.

By avoiding conformity and false consistency to societal norms, called consumerism by Emerson, we can shield ourselves from our first-world problems – and I don’t use that term loosely, because that’s what most complaints are: first-world problems that we inflict onto ourselves. In a nutshell, this is exactly what financial independence is about.

To a certain extent you can determine your own life by focussing on what’s most important to you and by matching your spending pattern accordingly. Never before have we been able to establish our own life paths to such a high degree, but still many people don’t make use of the opportunity.

Of course, charting a course different from everyone else’s isn’t easy. You may feel like a fish out of water, but that’s perfectly fine. While others continue playing The Complain Game, you’re making big strides forward towards your own prefered and optimal situation, where balancing wants and needs becomes the modus operandi.

Or, in more popular terminology, stop keeping up with the Joneses! Who cares what your neighbours are up to when you have everything you want out of life? You’ll find that once you figure out what makes you happy, the need to complain about everything and everyone around you disappears like snow before the sun.


  1. Doing the action yourself is so much harder than just complaining. I think I got the lesson some time ago, but the action is still hard for me.
    It is a constant struggle, that maybe never ends.

    1. Eurfi,

      Putting in the effort definitely is harder than sitting back and not doing anything, but what’s the fun in that? In a couple of years you’ll be able to say “look at what I achieved over all these years”.

      Besides, I think you’re well on your way already. You’re much farther ahead than most of your peers!


  2. Something you see very often: complain about it rather than taking action. People expect that someone else will fix the problem for them.
    I prefer to be on the pro active side and take cation wherever possible: be it on the FIRE side, a problem I see at work, …

    1. AT,

      Being proactive is a very good trait to have. You’ll make it far in life simply by being prepared for anything. Even if things don’t go your way, chances are that you come out on top.


  3. I couldn’t agree with you more. Here in England, all the lefties and people who think they’re intelligent are complaining about a conservative win in the elections. The simple fact is if they’re employed, they’ll probably be even better off. If they own a small business, they’ll be better off. If they have kids, they’re likely to be better off. So pretty much everyone will be be better off.

    I think my compatriots love complaining even more than the Belgians to be honest…

    1. Yep, the Brits complain more than the Belgians I reckon, largely because if there’s nothing else to complain about, there’s always the bad weather! Or maybe it’s just us, living in grey and rainy Manchester!

      I only really know one or two complainy types and they are people who would stop complaining if they did something for themselves (but they won’t).

      Oh and my grandmother complains about everything. But then she is in her late 80s so I guess she’s entitled to!

      1. Weenie,

        Ha, didn’t think of the bad weather to complain about! Although many Belgians complain about the weather too. I guess no one is happy until they have Italy-like sunshine all day.

        When you’re closing in on 100 you’ve earned the right to complain about anything and everything! Your grandmother has probably seen it all anyway.

        Best wishes,

    2. TV,

      Without picking sides in the political spectrum, you’re absolutely right that there will always be someone who is better off than you are. It’s true that a lot of your quality of life has to do with luck. However, if you don’t create the environment for luck to thrive by working hard, you won’t get lucky.

      Eurostat should investigate which Europeans are the biggest complainers! Would be a fun study! 🙂


  4. Jason,

    Yes, we need to stop loosing complaining about almost everything and focus on our objectives, for us at RA50 family, getting financially in 9 years and 6 months.



    1. RA50,

      Sometimes I wish I was Jason from Dividend Mantra, but alas! 😉

      You guys are well on your way to become financially free in nine years and enjoy a life of leisure and luxury in Brazil. I’m sure you’ll make it.

      Best of luck,

  5. They are everywhere, you see them at work and public places. Its much easier to point fingers than man up, accept any shortcomings and than to have a positive action to better oneself. Its just easier to whine. This is becoming a society of ‘whinekken’ as my friend say.

    1. FFF,

      Haha, I had to Google Whineken, but that’s an awesome way of shutting someone who complains or whines all the time up! 🙂

      Many people lack a positive attitude to change things for the better these days. Of course, there are always those unfortunate souls that experience all the bad luck, but in general we can make a lot happen if we want to.


  6. Thanks for the article NMW. I enjoyed it. I like the phrase, the grass is green where you water it. You can search for greener pastures but it’s never ending. Focus on yourselves. Enjoy and appreciate every day. We 1 percenters here in developing nations definitely have first world problems. Life’s a gift and use our precious energy in bettering our lives. Something bothers you, do something about it than whine. Anyways we can go on and on so its all good. Take care NMW. Cheers to us bud.

    1. Tyler,

      Glad to hear you enjoyed my ramblings, even if I was kind of a complainypants myself in this post!

      “The grass is green where you water it” is an excellent phrase to express how I feel about a lot of people’s problems or lamentations. Trees don’t reach into the sky if you don’t water them from time to time. It’s up to us to make things happen and change our lifes for the better.

      Hope you and your family are well over there.


  7. I would argue the majority of conversation I hear when I’m out and about is people complaining about something or another. I think its kinda funny when you put it in the perspective you’ve shown here, we all nearly all 1 percenters in the first world but still complain about the slightest inconveniences.

    That’s not to say we in the first world complain more or less than developing nations, I would assume its just about equal –> “Hedonic Adaptation” can probably explain all the complainypants in developed countries who regularly experience luxuries that poor folk would give anything to have.

    Great post though!

    Dividend Odyssey

    1. DO,

      Maybe I made into somewhat of a caricature, but overall I feel we are a bunch of complainers. Our perspective is indeed relative to our surroundings, so it’s likely that we don’t complain more or less than developing countries, but it’s likely that we complain more about slight inconveniences whereas they’re sometimes dealing with large societal or economical problems.

      I’ll look into the hedonic adaptation or treadmill theory, seems interesting!

      Best wishes,

  8. Stop comparing yourself with others. If you’re always trying compare yourself with others you’ll never be happy with yourself. Be happy with who you are and you’ll be better off. 🙂

    1. Tawcan,

      Exactly! You voiced the same opinion on my post about whether we should compare our investing performance to an index or our own goals, and it equally applies here. Focus on yourself and your own goals!


  9. Is this a complaint about complainers??

    Haha… Agreed though, my man…

    And if you’re going to complain about something (as we all do) at least follow it with something you’re going to do about it next or at least ask for help. That way there’s a point!

    1. Budgetsaresexy,

      Ha, I was curious if someone would point out the obvious! Always a hypocrite! 😉

      People who complain about something, but follow it up with an action plan or seek advice to rectify the situation aren’t true complainers in my book. At least they try to do something about it, which is more than I can say about tons of other folks.

      Best wishes,

      PS: thanks again for adding me to the Rockstar Finance top picks.

  10. It’s true. Most complaints we hear are nothing but first world problems. On a related note, I watched a movie recently called Kingsman: The Secret Service. Here’s one of the lines used in the film: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ~Harry Hart, quoting Ernest Hemingway.

    1. Liquid,

      What a coincidence! I watched Kingsman too yesterday – although not really my kind of movie, I enjoyed how over the top it was at times. The quote really stuck with me to because it’s so true.


  11. This is spot-on bro. I feel like all I ever hear from people around me is complaining and pessimism, but no action to show for all that yapping.

    For example, a lot of my coworkers who are in their late 20s/early 30s always tell me how they are saddled with debt, and how they wish they could make side-income, or run a blog like me, or invest like me. But when I ask why they don’t, it’s always “I just don’t have the time, I’m too busy” or “you’re very young and single, I just don’t have that luxury” or “I don’t know how to make a blog” or “I don’t know how to invest” etc.

    But when I ask what they do when they go home after work it’s usually “I just watch netflix and play video games”. I’m like, do you think I was born knowing how make a blog or write code or invest? No, I just freaking spent some time learning and teaching myself!

    In this day and age where we have access to the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips via the internet, there’s just no excuse for the “I don’t know how to do x”. People become so effing complacent once they finish school, it’s sad. Education is a life-long journey that should continue to take place on a daily basis even after you get your fancy college degree.

    Instead of mindlessly watching tv or playing video games, these people should invest in themselves and further their knowledge. Or, they could do what I do: mindlessly play video games AND hustle on the side! 😉

    Cheers man!

    1. Alex,

      You point to some very painful truths! I always pride myself on the fact that I’m good at almost everything even though I don’t excell at anything. Learning and picking up new competences is a lifelong process, something which many people tend to forget once they leave school or enjoy the comfort of a safe job.

      Just like you I learned how to code at a young age all by myself simply by reading up on the internet – and practice, of course. I wasn’t born with perfect English skills. Yes, I learned a lot at university, but it takes time and practice to keep these skills up.

      Where can I sign up for video games and awesome side hustles?! 😉

      Best wishes,

  12. In short, many of us are totally spoiled! We’ve no idea what true hardship is like, and our biggest challenge is commuting through traffic to a well-paying, indoor job. I’ve never visited Belgium, but I suspect your countrymen and countrywomen are no worse than most ‘westerners’ when it comes to complaining and taking our cushy life for granted. Being unable to afford an Apple Watch is not deprivation! 🙂

    1. Kurt,

      We’re probably not worse than any other Western nation – the Brits seem to think they’re even worse according to the readers of this blog – but it’s still a typical Belgian phenomenon that it’s never good enough. We always want to push barriers and have things better.

      Someone who thinks that no owning a fancy smartwatch is deprivation has never experienced true hardship. Even in our advanced societies there are people that lack basic things like proper food or clean running water – that’s what makes hardship.


    1. DFG,

      That’s what I like about you. Your blog oozes with humility, both when things go your way and when progress isn’t as fast as you’d like. You’re doing a great job raising a family and putting away enough savings for a rainy day (and FI!).

      Best wishes,

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