What’s Your “Pigeon of Discontent”? Weigh In!

Each week this year, I’m posting a video about some Pigeon of Discontent that a reader has raised in the comments. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.

These aren’t the major happiness challenges that we face, but rather, those little nagging problems that settle into roost.

I’m constantly surprised by what a big happiness boost I can get from small changes. As Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.” Tackling small nuisances has a big influence on my day.

What Pigeon of Discontent is messing with you lately? Please post your suggestions below, as fodder for possible future videos. If you’d like to see previous Pigeon videos, you can find them here.

  • I’ve recently started working from home a lot more, but I feel so much less productive than I used to. I’ll be working on one thing, and then the unfilled water filter on the counter begs to be filled up, or the clean dishes from last night be put away. I know women are multi-taskers, but I’m not sure it’s helpful!

    • Stephanie

      I’ve found what works for me is to do things in blocks of time. 9-10:30 is work. 10:30-11 is break time … make tea, tidy the kitchen, check email, etc. At 11, it’s back to work – no multi-tasking!! (If I put on laundry I am firm with myself that I won’t hang it until my next break time.)

    • Wende Garrison

      I have this problem too!

  • Sam

    Getting dinner ready on weeknights. I keep trying to plan meals in advance, but it seems like several times a week those plans get disrupted by unexpected events. I start to dread facing dinner at the end of a workday.

    • Julie

      Hi Sam, check out SavingDinner.com, and watch the little video. It really helped me. Even if you don’t buy the weekly menu mailers (which are great) there’s still a lot of helpful advice there.

  • One of my pigeons is broken links. 😀

    Seriously, though, I wanted to see your previous video examples, but the link is broken. Could it please be fixed?

    • gretchenrubin

      Fixed! Thanks for letting me know.

    • Anna

      My pigeon is people who won’t do their own work… try googling pigeon of discontent youtube and you will find what you need!

      • I was trying to let Ms. Rubin know, playfully, that the link was broken. I could of course have easily found the videos myself, but that wouldn’t have fixed the problem for anyone else.

        Thankfully, she appears to have taken it in the amiable spirit I intended. 🙂

  • Deb

    I am a 50-something and work with lots of 20-somethings. When I send them an email, it can be days until they respond (if they do so at all). What I find to be common courtesy, they find to be bothersome.

    • Veronique

      I am unsure what email etiquette is truthfully. I always respond to mine but also find some people just leave dead space between you and them. You send an email that requires some sort of acknowledgement and when you don’t receive it you send the usually anyone there query (more politely of course) only to get the response ya I got it!!??

  • Martha

    Negative people spewing negative energy into the environment–no different from any other type of pollution.

    • Tanja

      I think that’s a big problem. I’m confronted with this on a daily basis and most of the time I’m not sure how to deal with it without offending a lot of people.

  • Why do I dread errands such as going to the grocery store, Home Depot or Target? I make it out to be such a hassle and then nine out of ten times, it goes smooth as silk! Seriously, the amount of time I’ve spent stewing in advance is ridonkulous!

    • gretchenrubin

      I suffer from this too.

    • Cecilia

      I hate grocery shopping! I know I should pick one day a week for groceries but I just dread it so much that I postpone until there isn’t a scrap of food in the house. I would love to start shopping more at farmer’s market’s, etc, which I enjoy, but they don’t carry everything I need, which would result in more time spent shopping. 🙁

      • Wende Garrison

        I also hate running errands. I don’t fear that it won’t go well, I just hate doing it. 🙁

  • peninith

    * Overbearing political rant (can’t do much but ‘tune it out’
    * The critic in my head that keeps nagging me no matter what
    * Persistent weight control issues

  • My pigeon of discontent is being repeatedly asked for advice by family members who refuse to take the advice, yet keep unloading the consequences of their refusal to take the advice. Detaching with love from the problems of those I love is a gigantic challenge.

    • Veronique

      You said it! I have discovered that often people just want to unload and that I have the choice to listen or not. When I do I don’t give advice because truthfully it is too irritating and they aren’t able to or don’t want to take it anyway. I have an extension of that situation where family members expect me and another sibling to bail out our other siblings whenever they make a decision that goes badly. I have said sorry but I should not have to suffer the consequences of your repeated poor judgement nor should my husband and son…but I feel guilty.

  • Ann

    My pigeon of discontent is a persistent belief that because there are some really big things in my life that are wrong (my worsening disability, my child’s ADD, out lack of month at the end of the money, etc.) the little things aren’t worth bothering with because only the big things count. I’m trying to learn to sweat the small, manageable stuff instead of the big stuff, but it’s a Sisyphean task and it eats at any contentment I can squeeze out of this.

  • My pigeon of discontent is the raising problems of the world. (As personal problems are small and are part of life). I am really wondering where this world is going, with bundle of economic problems, energy crises, security problem. etc etc etc.

  • Loren

    I can’t sleep in. When I wake up, I’m up for the day. Sometimes that’s 5:30. Sometimes it’s 4 a.m. I know I should get more sleep, but I just can’t. The bedroom is cool, the room is dark, I’m content and not worrying… I just can’t sleep.

  • Paula

    Second guessing myself. I go buy something I need. It fits and I am thrilled that I found what I was looking for. Then, I get home and it sets in …. I don’t really love it. Why did I buy it? Don’t I have something I can substitute? It is not the money, but the time and effort I feel like I wasted to purchase something I really don’t like when I get home.

    • 423

      This is sooo true for me. I get buyer’s remorse over everything.

  • Ann

    Keeping my car clean. It is not filthy. But it is littered and stuffed with stuff. I want a nice neat and organized car, where my umbrella is always handy, my sunglasses are within reach, that I have kleenex and breath mints. And, oh yes, I can reach a paper towel in case of a spill. I actually have this ideal car situation about 1 day a year, when I clean it out. But I want this on a daily basis!

    • peninith

      Can you choose one day a week that is ‘clean out the car day’ like ‘laundry day’? Probably once a week should be enough to take care of any buildup of discarded paper or things left behind or out of order. Saturday morning before heading out on errands? I wouldn’t think you’d need to do window cleaning or anything like that more than once a month. I gave up on a ‘tidy up before you leave the car’ resolution because I am often in a hurry to get in the house with groceries or some such. I also do this with my purse once a week to keep it from being disorganized and full of paper.

  • Rebecca

    My pigeon of discontent is “I blame my lack of motivation on the needs of others”

    When I get up early in the morning, I feel wonderful. Its a very creative and productive time for me. However, both my sweetie and I love using our pre-wake u time as cuddle time.

    Although he is very supportive and encouraging of me to get up, my sleepy brain that doesn’t want to get out of bed blames my lack of motivation on him — I don’t want to let him down, etc.

    I do the same thing with my mother and eating healthy foods when I am at home. Although she is supportive I find myself reaching for the second cookie because “I wouldn’t want her to feel bad or think that I didn’t like them”

    I know that these are excuses — not reality — but I still end up feeling resentful towards other people!

    • Pauline

      Maybe you can get up early and then come back to bed for 10 minutes of snuggle time before the alarm goes off?

  • CEM.

    My ‘P.O.D’ is ‘PROCRASTINATION’ – = which is why I live by a diary so to keep me on track … I loathe wasting time = yet know that we need leisure & down-time = balace is key !!!

  • Tamara

    Gretchen, I love your “Pigeon of Discontent” videos. Though I can’t relate to all of them (for example, I never have trouble with clearing clutter or getting organized), you always sound comforting and reassuring and make those small problems manageable, which is great.
    My personal “Pigeons” would be:
    1. I try to eat healthy, but i really, really hate the taste of most vegetables (including salad of all kinds) – if I try to eat them, though, I feel sick almost instantly. So, as I have to cook just for myself, I basically end up eating pasta most days. I’m good when it comes to sweets and treats – I hardly ever eat those. The problem is, I feel a huge lack of energy and think that my very one-sided nutrition could be responsible – plus, I worry about one day having to cook for a husband and kids and not being able to provide them with healthy food that I can eat, too.
    2. I know that acting and thinking in a positive way is one of the most important keys to happiness. When I am facing a problem, though, I go over it again and again, worrying so deeply that I cannot sleep properly anymore and also bother the people I love. In such a situation, it seems downright ridiculous to me to “think positive” or use positive affirmations like “I am perfectly fine”, although I KNOW that would be the right thing to do.
    Thank you for all of your great work. I can’t wait for your ext book! Do you already know when it will be available in a German version?
    Love, Tamara

    • Theresa

      Perhaps if you prepared the vegetables a different way, you would like them. For example, the whole time I was growing up, I hated asparagus. My mom would boil it on the stove and it was just mushy and green and gross (to me… others liked it that way). Now that I’m married, my husband seasons it and puts it on the grill… and I love it! Just one tiny example but maybe some experimenting with the preparation of the vegetables would help.

      • Kate

        Agreed — try roasting, too, and tossing those veggies with your pasta. Or throw greens like spinach or arugula or chard in the last minute or so with your pasta. You’re not eating a giant pile of “vegetables,” just supplementing your main dish.

    • Sarah

      Maybe the vegetables need some fat on them!! Butter or olive oil (or olive oil & garlic) can make a lot of things palatable, and contrary to what you hear, some fat is better for you than no fat.

  • Tanja

    Keeping my flat tidy. I have a tiny flat and I love it when it’s clean but it’s so hard to keep it clean. I don’t have any cellar rooms and I am a collector of sorts. My passion is photography and so I keep a lot of things that might be useful for future photoshoots. This in combination with my all-day-stuff gives my flat a kind of cluttered feel.

  • Elle

    Creeping weight gain! I have a hard time balancing going out with friends and not wanting to seem cheerless because I’m abstaining vs. staying healthy.

  • Elle

    My pigeon of discontent is feeling like I never “catch up.” I’m never “done” with all the work, family, and house things that are on my plate, so it’s hard to make time for myself or to really enjoy doing so. Maybe that’s a big thing, not a pigeon?

    • Sara

      I agree. I feel like no matter what I do, there are still tasks looming ahead of me. I often have troubles taking time off and have that horrible guilt after I do take a break that I should have spent the time on my tasks.

    • Wende Garrison

      I totally agree with this one. I feel there must be a way to make lists and schedule tasks so that I could be DONE at the end of every day. Gretchen, I know you did a thing recently about giving yourself a “quitting time”. 🙂

      • Lotta

        LeoB at Zen Habits recommends aiming at getting one (1) thing done each day. Sounds crazy at first, maybe, but you do feel a lot more pleased with yourself, and these daily efforts sure add up.

    • Jessica

      I’m glad so many other people feel this way. It’s something I’m always trying to come to terms with. How do I be productive without beating myself up for stuff that doesn’t get done?

  • Mrs. King

    My “pigeon” is hearing my own complaints. I finally recognized how much complaining I was doing and put myself on a 30-day challenge to stop it. I am now on day 4- I use a calendar and stickers – at the end of the day I hang the sticker if I made it. Twice I had to go to bed early to keep my record clean! At work I warned everyone to give me the eye if they heard me start!

  • laelliott

    Figuring out what is fun for me. I stopped drinking a year ago and realized I never did enjoy parties or large groups (thus drinking to mask this). Now I feel unsure of what to do for fun or how to connect with people sans alcohol

  • Midge

    My pigeon of discontent is my inability to enjoy myself.
    I try to come up with different activities for my family that might be fun, and then I just hate doing them. Or I stay home because I’m so disgusted with my inability to enjoy anything that I think I should just let it ride, and then I get even more disgusted with myself. In the really few instances that I do something I think I might like, I often stress out completely preparing and then I’m really really disappointed afterwards, like a 5 year old :-/
    I’d absolutely appreciate it if anybody has some suggestions on how to deal with this as it’s wearing me out and I’m really dreading our upcoming vacation.

    • Cecilia

      There’s an article in the New York Times called “Vacation Sabotage” that you might find helpful. It’s available on the website.

      • Midge

        Thank you!! That was a very useful article. I’ve printed it and I’m going to take it along on our vacation 🙂

    • 423

      I do this too. My problem is when I start thinking about something I’d like to do I over think it and then don’t do it AND then wonder why I am not having fun. I think it comes from trying to pick the PERFECT thing instead of anything that sounds fun.

  • NatashaP

    My pigeon of discontent is the more I want something, the less able I am to ask for it. I’d like to be able to ask the people who love me for gifts (esp. around birthday and Xmas times), but if I really want something, I feel compelled to get it myself… even though intellectually, I know my husband is dying to know what i want… I know it comes from growing up in a family where all gifts had strings and sometimes when I asked for something, I was laughed at for my desire….or told that I didn’t really want it. But I must be able to rise above that now…

  • Laura Broder

    I dread and put off personal care activities like filing my nails, getting my hair cut, plucking my eyebrows, etc. Like many other small chores they don’t take much time, but I don’t find any enjoyment in them.

  • lolabelle

    Mine is feeling like I should go out and do something exciting after work, but then thinking I am too exhausted, so I just stay home but feel guilty because I should be going out. i can never figure out if I want to go out but am too tired to do it, or if I actually just want to be home but feel like that’s not ok for some reason.

  • Danielle

    I suffer from hurried perfectionism. As if trying to be perfect all the time isn’t bad enough, I have to add another thorn and try to do it all in record-breaking time. If I’m able to finish something early, I just add something else to my never-ending list so that I can feel even more productive. The problem is, by the end of the day I’m so worn out from trying to do so much (perfectly) that I have nothing left to give to my husband or children. I’ve become both emotionally and physically drained by my own doing. I end up acting out of frustration and usually not in a very cheery way ):

  • Stephanie

    My Pigeon of Discontent is my anger and frustration with people who break rules – and get away with it!!
    -People who smoke in clearly-indicated non-smoking areas!
    -People who take bikes on public transit during rush hour!
    -Drivers who try to ‘sneak up’ the lane and merge instead of waiting their turn!
    -People who cut in line, or block the subway doors!
    This also includes the breaking of the social contract, such as people talking at the movies (or worse, live shows!).

  • Cecilia

    My pigeon is not using my free time wisely, and therefore not getting much writing done. I just earned an MFA in creative writing and should be spending a few hours a day working on the book I began in grad school. Instead, I spend my time running errands, doing stuff for my kids, and looking for job postings online because we need the money. But the fact that I’m not bringing myself closer to my goal of a complete first draft of the book is always at the back of my mind. I want to create a routine where I spend 3-4 hours a day writing, but no two days are the same and it’s hard to establish said routine.

  • Hi, I love your book, just finished it recently. It’s motivating me to go out and try to find growth in my own life! It’s already working – I’m so much less stressed!

    My pigeon of discontent is that I have a tendency to dwell on whenever I make a faux pas or put my foot in my mouth. I work in a career as a copywriter/fact checker, so I often have to argue, and my coworkers expect me to be correct every time I say something. So whenever I say or do something incorrectly, it weighs on me. Long story short: how do I stop dwelling on my mistakes and move on past them quickly?


  • Nela

    Working too much and then having too few time, energy and creativity left for everything else, which is what really matters.

  • dkg

    I spend too much energy wondering/worrying about whether I am “living up to my potential”…

    • Tamara

      I can relate to this one, too. I am in the middle of deciding what occupation to pick after having finished my bachelor’s degree at the university, and I guess taking a “reasonable” job would be the best chioce. But what if I would be a tremendous marine biologist or singer or traveler’s guide in a foreign country or… instead? It’s really hard, wanting enough for yourself but not constantly wanting too much and thus being depressed and moody.

  • Lisa

    People being habitually late. I feel I am constantly waiting on people, and when I wait I can’t seem to do anything else because I feel I will be interrupted once that person finally arrives. It is wasted time for me, and I get really irritated. I do understand small amounts of lateness here and there because sometimes there are delays that can’t be predicted, but if it is a constant thing, and sometimes it is big time differences, that is just inconsiderate.

    • Veronique

      My son has a friend whose parents are so unpunctual (is that a word ?) I become infuriated. My son will be waiting for his friend to arrive and the parents will sail in up to an hour late but never less than fifteen minutes late. if we are going to a movie we invariably have to reschedule. It is at the point where I just offer all the time to pick him up to save my frustration. I find it a complete lack of regard for other people. I know the whole psychology blah, blah, just trying to fit too many things into a small time slot etc. but every time without an apology? Grr… This family wreaks havoc with my, ‘accept people as they are resolution!’

  • Katie

    I get sucked into television or the Internet and come up for air hours later. It’s like a whirlpool of technology that wastes my time and leaves me feeling unhappy, headachey, and completely zoned out. I’d love your take on how to avoid getting caught in that whirlpool and, more so, how to give myself a lifeline if I do get sucked in.

  • heatmary

    Working in a sales and customer service atmosphere is challenging to begin with and when people I’m dealing with are grumpy, angry, short with me, it’s hard to not let it effect my mood. I’d say my Pigeon of Discontent is trying to remember not to take things personally. These people have been effected by something in their days prior to dealing with me and I need to remember that I have the power to help them improve their day instead of allowing them to drag me down with them. (Quit taking it personally! QTIP. I have one taped to my phone as a reminder!)

  • Anne

    My pigeon of discontent is household cleaners that do not work, or that do not work well. Some of these miscreants are nationally-advertised brands, others are old fashioned standards like baking soda or vinegar, which may work well for some jobs but not for nearly as many as they’re sometimes touted for.

    Sometimes, better performers aren’t even advertised for household use–for example, the best glass cleaners I’ve found are marketed for use on car windows! (And the major brands that ARE advertised for home use are SO streaky.)

  • Being so busy that I can’t get the little things done. The problem is I will see these little things that need to be done all over the place. I will think to myself, “I have got to do that” and will have a little spurt of frustration. If there are many little moments like this, I end up with a very frustrating day.

  • Exhausted

    I know you have written about this before, but my pigeon of major discontent is dealing with difficult family members. Who on the one hand are so super sensitive about everything to do with themselves, and need so much reassurance and praise that you feel you are walking on eggshells the whole time. On the other are so insensitive to everyone else’s needs and feelings, that you are constantly gobsmacked and stung by their behaviour. The sort of people who if they were acquaintances, you would not bother to continue a relationship – but because they are family you are forced to interact with over and over. It is exhausting!

  • Kat

    Checking FaceBook. If I let myself get sucked in, it robs me of my free time, and I find some people’s photos and updates to be narcissistic and braggadocios. Others are can be uptight and political. Very few makes me smile or laugh. It also makes me sad that I rarely hear from my closest friends anymore because they assume I’m on it every day like they are. And I see them communicating with acquaintances, not real friends. When I call, email, or text them to find out what’s new, they tell me I can check their FB.

    This makes me pretty darn miserable because it’s not something I have the power to change. The only thing I can do is close my account, which I’m considering. If my friends don’t bother to keep in touch, I guess the are not my true friends. Most of the people who have “friended” me are old classmates trying to one-up each other anyway. BIG pigeon!!

  • Liz B.

    My pigeon is my inability to remember to check in with myself on my goals when I’m at home with my family. I set some reminders on my iphone to prompt me to do it, but most of the time I either don’t hear it or I ignore it because I’m in the middle of something else. I’ve also put up signs in my home (like a reminder to practice gratitude) but after a few days, I no longer ‘see’ it there on the wall. I want to become more conscious of my goals throughout the day but can’t seem to find a way to manage this.

  • I HATE talking on the phone (it’s so stressful for me and I feel so trapped when I’m on the phone) but it’s the only way 90% of my family and friends communicate besides face-to-face, and most of them aren’t local. And then there are things like making doctor’s appointments and all that assorted phone-related stuff. It’s such a stressful thing in my life, this utter dependency on the phone. And when I don’t call people, or return their calls because I just don’t have the time or patience to sit and talk and listen for hours on end, I get told I’m being rude. It’s not rudeness- I just don’t want to be on the phone for a long time! I wish I knew a way to express this serious aversion of the telephone as well as a way to keep phone chats brief- I’d probably be a lot more okay with the phone if I knew how to effectively use it without feeling overwhelmed!

    • SophiaV

      I have this problem too! It takes me foooooorever to make appointments or call friends back because I hate being on the phone. I have a plumbing problem that has been sitting for 6 months because every time I plan to call a plumber I get frustrated and move it to the bottom of my to-do list. I would so much rather drive to a store to resolve an issue than sit on the phone with customer service. I can’t quite figure out what it is, like I am uncomfortable having a conversation when I can’t see the person I am talking too? Thank goodness for texting and online appointment programs.

  • Gen

    I move a lot, and I feel like my rental houses/apartments aren’t really mine, so I put off completely unpacking, decorating, buying things we need etc. However, because of jobs and my husband and I being from different countries, I don’t see us settling down in the near future. How can I enjoy the steps along the way and feel like I have a home without becoming too invested (emotionally and materially) in our temporary places?

  • My Pigeon of Discontent is feeling bad if I go ahead and do something like exercise without my partner…..because they couldn’t get up in the morning or because they are so busy or tired or etc… You get the picture. I just want to do it for me without feeling the guilt that they didn’t get to do it.

    I also can’t stand smokers who stand outside of entrances and smoke. Like I want to breathe that!

  • Michele

    Too much paper in my life! My office is full of it and it accumulates on horizontal surfaces in my home. I have one sacred place where I don’t put it, which is the buffet in the dining room. Mail, receipts, insurance policies and other things I need to read, but don’t have the time to take care of immediately–help! I know it needs to be dealt with but it seems overwhelming and as soon as I go through a pile, it just starts all over again.

  • Nadine

    My pigeon of discontent are discouraging and cranky parents. I mean, I get it if life’s being real rough to them too but I just wish they’d try harder for their children since it’s them we look up to and rely on mostly.

  • Liz

    My main pigeon of discontent is that I find it next to impossible to
    wake up on time. I currently have three alarms but even when i put them
    on different ends of my room, I wake up , turn them off and get back
    into bed. argh! In my sleepy haze all my goals and responsibilities for
    the day go out the window and all I want to do is sleep. I get up late,
    rush to get dressed and race into work about 15 min late daily. My job
    is pretty flexible but I worry one day they will get sick of this and
    fire me. Also it’s awful to race into work feeling like a mess, I never
    have time to do my make up or dress nicely. My mornings are a mess and
    you can tell by how i look. Also because I’m late parking is really hard
    to find. I know waking up early would stop this domino effect of small
    frustrations that leave me feeling inept and frazzled, but I can’t seem
    to wake up on time. Help! I also have a really hard time falling asleep
    which is a big reason why I can’t wake up. It’s an incredibly vicious
    cycle and I can’t seem to figure it out.

  • My POD: I killed all the beautiful plants my mom put on my patio by not watering them enough or often enough. Looking at them makes me feel bad. I need to get some more cactus-like plants and get rid of these guilt-causing dead ones!

  • Susan

    I have embraced your “truth” that outer order contributes to inner calm. I have long struggled with clutter, and am doing a better job of managing what I have and not collecting more. However, when it comes to making progress on organizational projects, such as filing papers and making scrapbooks and photo albums, I find that I tend to have the patience and attention to do these things just a handful of times a year, and doing so requires a lot of mental energy. Do you have any suggestions for how to keep these tasks higher up on my radar screen and how to do them with less stress?

  • Lynn

    How to feel more comfortable joining groups, or participating in a hobby without making excuses or being negative. I know I need to connect to more people. Now, I am an emptynester and need more activity. I used to teach yoga, but due to a medical condition, I have been told to stop. I do Pilates, but the people in my classes are wealthier than me and I do not feel we have anything in common. I love to travel, but do not have the means. I have tried drawing, but was told I have “sensitive lines” but not talent. Hobbies are expensive too! I want to do more cultural activities but have a hard time finding people to go with me. They are not interested or are working. Thanks in advance