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The Journal of Social Psychology, 154: 278–282, 2014
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0022-4545 print / 1940-1183 online
DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2014.906380

Pet Peeves and Happiness: How Do Happy People
Complain?

ROBIN M. KOWALSKI
BROOKE ALLISON

Clemson University

GARY W. GIUMETTI
Quinnipiac University

JULIA TURNER
ELIZABETH WHITTAKER

LAURA FRAZEE
JUSTIN STEPHENS

Clemson University

ABSTRACT. The present study was designed to investigate the relationships among mindfulness,
happiness, and the expression of pet peeves. Previous research has established a positive correla-
tion between happiness and mindfulness, but, to date, no research has examined how each of these
variables is related to complaining in the form of pet peeves. Four hundred ten male and female col-
lege students listed the pet peeves they had with a current or former relationship partner. They also
completed measures of happiness, positive and negative affect, depression, mindfulness, relation-
ship satisfaction, and satisfaction with life. Pet peeves were negatively correlated with relationship
satisfaction, well-being, and mindfulness. Consistent with hypotheses, support was found for the
mediating role of mindfulness in the relationship between happiness and pet peeves.

IN SPITE OF THE RELATIVELY LIMITED empirical attention devoted to complaining, every-
one is familiar with the behavior, albeit to varying degrees. Complaining is “an expression of
dissatisfaction, whether subjectively experienced or not, for the purpose of venting emotions
or achieving intrapsychic goals, interpersonal goals, or both” (Kowalski, 1996, p. 180). Pet
peeves represent complaints about very specific events, persons, or behaviors. Cunningham,
Barbee, and Druen (1997; see also O’Connor, 2011) discussed pet peeves within the context
of Cunninghams’s social allergen model. Using the analogy of the physical allergen pro-
cess, Cunningham discussed how behaviors that initially produced only mild annoyance, can,
over time, become social allergens and produce a much more negative emotional response.

Address correspondence to Robin M. Kowalski, Clemson University, Department of Psychology, 418 Brackett Hall,
Clemson, SC 29634, USA. E-mail: [email protected]

KOWALSKI ET AL. 279

Cunningham, Shamblen, Barbee, and Ault (2005) define a social allergen as “a reaction of hyper-
sensitive annoyance or disgust to a repeated behavior” (p. 273). This repeated nature of annoying
behaviors may lead to pet peeves and distinguish pet peeves from daily hassles and/or stressors.

Clearly, not everyone complains equally (Kowalski, 1996, 2003). Whereas some people find
fault with everything, others rarely express dissatisfaction. Are these individuals who rarely
express dissatisfaction truly more satisfied than more chronic complainers or are they less likely to
express their dissatisfaction? Researchers agree that individuals differ in their set point for happi-
ness; however, they also concur that approximately 40% of happiness is determined by intentional
activities (e.g., practicing optimism; seeking out new activities; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006).
Related to this, researchers have found positive relationships between happiness and mindfulness
(Eberth & Sedlmeier, 2012; Perez-Blasco, Viguer, & Rodrigo, 2013). Specifically, mindfulness
is positively correlated with subjective well-being and negatively correlated with distress. Langer
(1989, 2009) defined mindfulness in terms of three characterisitcs: “(1) creation of new cate-
gories; (2) openness to new information; (3) awareness of more than one perspective” (p. 62).
This definition suggests happiness and mindfulness share similar characteristics (e.g., openness
to new experiences).

To date, however, research has not examined the interrelationships among happiness, mind-
fulness, and the expression of pet peeves, the focus of the current exploratory study. Hypotheses
include:

Hypothesis 1 (H1) Participants higher in mindfulness will report higher happiness and (H2)
express fewer pet peeves with a relational partner, because of their awareness of more than one
perspective, than individuals lower in mindfulness. In addition, (H3) happier individuals will
express more satisfaction with their close relationships and (H4) engage in the intentional activ-
ity of expressing fewer pet peeves. Researchers have yet to explore the mechanisms through
which happiness might be related to complaining in the form of pet peeves. Given the role of
mindfulness in reducing anxiety and distress (Kiken & Shook, 2012), and in allowing people to
become aware of another’s perspective and motives, we hypothesize that (H5) being mindful may
be the mechanism through which individuals who are happy engage in less frequent expressions
of their pet peeves.

METHOD

Participants

Four hundred and ten undergraduates participated in this study (149 males, 260 females, 1 unre-
ported; Mage = 19.23, SD = 2.23; 87.0% Caucasian). Forty-four percent of participants listed pet
peeves focusing on a current relationship partner and 56% a former relationship partner.

Materials and Procedure

Participants completed a survey in which they listed their pet peeves with a relationship partner
(range: 0–15 pet peeves). A definition of pet peeves was provided. Participants then determined
their top three pet peeves and answered questions about these three pet peeves, including their

280 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

relationship satisfaction and the effect these pet peeves had on their relationship. They com-
pleted measures of Positive and Negative Affect (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988); Satisfaction
With Life (Diener, Emmons, Larson, & Griffin, 1985); Mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003);
Depression (Radloff, 1977); and Happiness (Hills & Argyle, 2002). Response formats corre-
sponded to the original scales. The order of individual difference measures and pet peeves
measurement was counterbalanced.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Table 1 displays internal descriptive statistics and intercorrelations among study variables.1

Across participants, the top pet peeves were smacking gum, mumbling, not listening, com-
plaining, uncleanliness, and being late. As predicted, mindfulness was positively correlated with
happiness (rcurrent = .45, rformer = .38), and moderately negatively correlated with total number
of pet peeves (rcurrent = –.24, rformer = –.23; Cohen, 1992), supporting H1 and H2. However, the
predicted positive relationship between happiness and relationship satisfaction was only signifi-
cant among participants reporting on their current relationship (rcurrent = .30, rformer = –.04), as
was the predicted negative relationship between happiness and number of pet peeves (rcurrent =
–.16, rformer = –.01). Thus H3 and H4 were partially supported.

Next, to test H5, mindfulness as a mediator of the relation between happiness and number of
pet peeves, we used the PROCESS macro (Hayes, 2013). Analyses yielded a small but significant
indirect effect for mindfulness (indirect effect = –.42, 95% CI [–.65, –.22], κ2 = .092), thus
supporting H5.

Overall, pet peeves were negatively correlated with relationship satisfaction, well-being, and
mindfulness, at least for a current relationship. This suggests that pet peeves may be linked to
a couple’s happiness in a relationship. Additionally mindfulness may be a means of attenuating
one’s likelihood of expressing pet peeves when one is feeling happy. Perhaps people who are more

TABLE 1
Descriptive Statistics, Internal Consistency Reliabilities and Intercorrelations Among Study Variables

Variable M SD Happy PA NA SWL Mind Dep SWR EOR # M SD

Happy 4.35 0.61 .90 0.19∗∗ −0.44∗∗ 0.72∗∗ 0.38∗∗ −0.64∗∗ −0.04 −0.12 −0.01 4.40 0.61
PA 2.60 0.78 0.29∗∗ .86 0.29∗∗ 0.22∗∗ 0.15∗ −0.06 0.03 0.06 0.08 2.60 0.70
NA 1.61 0.59 −0.38∗∗ 0.06 .83 −0.28∗∗ −0.15∗ 0.47∗∗ 0.08 0.14∗ 0.09 1.60 0.58
SWL 5.05 1.38 0.60∗∗ 0.10 −0.23∗∗ .90 0.31∗∗ −0.53∗∗ 0.05 −0.17∗∗ −0.08 5.16 1.34
Mind 3.59 0.77 0.45∗∗ 0.18∗ −0.35∗∗ 0.32∗∗ .86 −0.34∗∗ 0.02 −0.14∗ −0.24∗∗ 3.56 0.75
Dep 1.79 0.49 −0.65∗∗ −0.12 0.50∗∗ −0.54∗∗ −0.46∗∗ .89 −0.06 0.18∗∗ 0.17∗ 1.78 0.48
SWR 3.75 1.02 0.30∗∗ 0.06 −0.13 0.23∗∗ 0.24∗∗ −0.29∗∗ na −0.43∗∗ −0.13 2.88 1.08
EOR 2.43 1.10 −0.30∗∗ −0.11 0.26∗∗ −0.29∗∗ −0.30∗∗ 0.36∗∗ −0.65∗∗ na 0.23∗∗ 3.06 1.12
# 4.54 2.59 −0.16∗ −0.13 0.14 −0.19∗ −0.23∗∗ 0.21∗∗ −0.26∗∗ 0.32∗∗ na 4.40 2.34

Note: Values below the diagonal are from participants who reported on their current relationship (n = 175); values
above the diagonal are from participants who reported on a former relationship (n = 222). Cronbach’s alpha values are
presented along the diagonal in italics for the entire sample; Happy: Oxford Happiness Scale; PA: positive affect; NA:
negative affect; SWL: satisfaction with life; Mind: mindfulness; Dep: depression; SWR: satisfaction with the relationship;
EOR: effect of pet peeves on relationship; #: number of pet peeves. ∗p < .05; ∗∗p < .01.

KOWALSKI ET AL. 281

mindful modulate the type of complaints they offer, preferring to engage in instrumental types
of complaints over expressive complaints, thereby expressing complaints only when they believe
they will accomplish desired outcomes. Future longitudinal research is needed comparing pet
peeves, mindfulness, and happiness over time. Furthermore, the current study assessed pet peeves
in the context of relationship partners only. Therefore, additional research should examine other
relationships in which pet peeves are likely to be expressed, such as friendships. Furthermore,
expressing pet peeves when instructed to do so, as in the current study, may differ from the natu-
ral expression of pet peeves in the context of an ongoing relationship. Additional research is also
needed comparing the expression of pet peeves in ongoing healthy versus failing relationships.
Perhaps the failing nature of a relationship contributes to the creation of hypersensitive feelings
of disgust. Finally, the current study assessed general happiness rather than relationship happi-
ness specifically. Future research should examine happiness within the context of the relationship
itself.

NOTES

1. Due to differences in hypothesized relationships between participants reporting on their current vs. former
relationships, we report the results separately in Table 1 and in the text.

2. The size, direction, significance, and effect size for the mediation analyses did not differ between participants report-
ing on a current vs. a former relationship partner. Therefore, we present the mediation results for the full sample here
for simplicity.

AUTHOR NOTES

Robin M. Kowalski, Brooke Allison, Julia Turner, Elizabeth Whittaker, Laura Frazee, and Justin Stephens are
affiliated with the Department of Psychology, Clemson University. Gary W. Giumetti is affiliated with the Department
of Psychology, Quinnipiac University.

REFERENCES

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Received December 13, 2013
Accepted March 13, 2014

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  • Abstract
  • METHOD
    • Participants
    • Materials and Procedure
  • RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
  • AUTHOR NOTES
  • REFERENCES
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