As a child, I possessed raw, undeniable talent in the conversational sport of kvetching. Merriam-Webster defines a kvetch, a noun, as someone who “complains habitually.” Honestly, this tracks: As a toddler, my sippy cup consistently appeared to be half empty. For example, my cousin and I had the same stuffed cat, but I always wanted to play with hers because it was fluffier. With this solid foundation, I continued to excel at kvetching through the growing pains of young adulthood.
To be fair to my younger self, children are sponges, and I was simply mirroring the adults around me. I come from a long line of worriers; it’s practically a family tradition to analyze all possible negative outcomes for any given situation. Kvetching easily lends itself to the weather, restaurants, a trip to the beach, a new relationship, hopes and dreams — and much, much more.
To be clear, I don’t blame my parents for this trait. My mother was born a few months after World War II ended, to Polish Jewish parents who fled deep into Russia, escaping a train ride or so ahead of the Nazis. My mother’s early years were spent in refugee camps across Europe and eventually, Israel. My father was born in Tel Aviv, pre-1948. For him, the war for statehood loomed directly overhead. His father, my grandfather, was often away for weeks at a time, preparing for and eventually fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.
As author and influential Rabbi Steve Leder recently shared about his own upbringing, I, too, grew up with an impending sense of doom around every corner. A skeptical outlook, suspicion regarding the seemingly good intentions of others and finding comfort in hard work are in my DNA. These inclinations were key to my family’s survival, and they’re the reason I am here today.
But our tenacity came at a cost. As a young adult I was very responsible and had high expectations of myself and everyone else. And yet, I was totally out of touch with what made me happy. I was a straight-A student, but I didn’t have a favorite subject; in college I found myself incapable of choosing a major I was excited about.
No one had taught me how to kvell — to feel or show triumphant elation or jubilation. I decided to become an accountant, even though I found my accounting courses frustratingly boring and difficult at the same time. I kvetched about the long nights I spent at the library; my friends, meanwhile, funneled beer and danced to Journey on tabletops. I missed out on a lot, but before my senior year even started, I had secured a full-time position for after graduation. Not surprisingly, a few years into my career, I was miserable, essentially stuck in some degree of fight or flight at all times.
To help combat my overabundance of cortisol, the stress hormone, I tried yoga. In one of my first classes, the teacher asked us to close our eyes and picture a place from our childhood that we have purely happy memories of, a place that evokes feelings of bliss and serenity. I drew a blank. I had memories of having fun, but no place from my childhood represented unencumbered joy.
I continued to search my memories as I began flowing through the yoga poses that day. I was bothered and distracted by my inability to pinpoint this place. But as I repeatedly linked breath to movement, and turned inward, the magic of yoga made something click: I realized I wanted to feel this present and calm off my mat, too. That day, I began my journey from kvetcher to kveller; the seeds were planted for me to learn how to create unencumbered joy in the present.
It hasn’t been a problem-free journey; with changing any behavior, it’s vital to take action in the direction you want to go. But I’ve learned that every action empowers you with the confidence to take more action. If you’re curious and you’re ready to do the work, too, here are seven ways to help transform yourself from a kvetcher to a kveller.
1. Trust your intuition
The first truly rebellious thing I ever did was fall in love and marry a non-Jewish man. This wasn’t because I was particularly looking for a non-Jewish man; I simply trusted my intuition and led with my heart. We all have a gut, but fewer of us know how to listen to it. My gut screamed this man was the one for me. And I listened to that, rather than the pit in my stomach from my mom’s disappointment when I told her my relationship was serious.
2. Parent yourself
I learned to give myself the approval and unconditional love I need. With the help of my therapist, my husband and lots of practice, I learned to kvell about myself: I am proud of who I am, my values, how I treat others, and the contributions I continue to make in my community. Phew, that was uncomfortable to type! But — and this is key — I did it anyway!
3. Be a quitter
If someone or something is stealing your joy, draining you, giving you hives… QUIT! I used to (and still do) feel compelled to finish things, whether it’s the last item on my to-do list, the wrinkled grape tomatoes in my vegetable drawer, or the Netflix movie I started three weeks ago.
In my experience, becoming an effective quitter happens in stages. It can start with a simple “no.” Once you see how great it was to say no and respect your intuitive boundaries, you will begin to feel free. Free to choose new things — the pandemic has turned a lot of us into quitters that are in search of careers that provide us with meaning, respect and true work/life balance. I say hooray! Quitting the traditional accounting profession in search of my passion led me to discover my purpose. It all started with a few “nos.”
4. Try new (scary) things
Skydiving, teaching a yoga class for the first time, reading a piece of my writing aloud to strangers, leaving my secure but predictable career and embracing entrepreneurship are things that fell well outside my comfort zone the first time I did them. In many ways, the recent holiday of Sukkot embodies leaving our comfort zones, as we leave our traditional homes and take the leap of spending time in a more vulnerable, outdoors setting. After the busy cluster of holidays, the Jewish calendar gives us Cheshvan, a time meant for rest. So, when you try something new and scary — and you should! — make sure to give yourself time to replenish and process your experience.
5. Choose the other path
You don’t have to take the traditional path. You don’t have to get married, have kids, buy a house or know where you want to live in five years. Other people might want your plan to be nailed down, because the uncertainty makes them uncomfortable. Here’s the good news: what they want is not your responsibility!
6. Embrace “gray” thinking
Black-and-white thinking holds us back and creates polarity. People who think only in terms of absolutes are more likely to stay in fight-or-flight mode. I’ve noticed that the more relaxed I am, the more flexible my thinking becomes. Kvelling more and kvetching less is good for our bodies, our immune systems, and our ability to have compassion for views different from our own. It also helps us lead with love. When I have difficult conversations I think of my favorite RBG quote, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
7. Find balance
Accounting is like life in one major way: It’s all about balance. In my Mindful Money Coaching practice I found my true passion — I bring yoga and personal finance together to help women find balance in their financial lives. And that means finding joy in their relationship with money. Money is emotional, stressful, and can trigger fight or flight. What can help? Delighting in life’s many small joys, and learning to kvetch less and kvell more.
What are you waiting for? Go find something to kvell about!