Do You Keep a Contented Heart? I Work at This.

“This day by God’s mercy I am 29 years of age, and in very good health, and like to live and get an estate; and if I have a heart to be contented, I think I may reckon myself as happy a man as any is in the world, for which God be praised. So to prayers and to bed.”

Diary of Samuel Pepys, February 1662

I love this passage, and it inspired the resolutions for the month of November in The Happiness Project. I resolved to “keep a contented heart,” because I realized that no matter what’s happening in my life, I’m going to be happy only if I “have a heart to be contented.”

One of my most frequent faults is fretfulness — annoyance and complaints about minor inconveniences or little mistakes or oversights by others.

You can hear Elizabeth and me talk about this issue on the podcast, episode 20...when she mentions a time when I complained to my husband about the onions he put in the frittata. I complained — but then I did eventually remember to keep a contented heart, and I apologized for my carping.

One of my main aims is to remember how happy I already am. Do you struggle with this?

  • Mimi Gregor

    Sometimes I catch myself beginning a litany of minor complaints: about traffic… someone driving too slowly… getting the red lights. The trouble with the “voices in my head” beginning one of these rants is that before long it will snowball into noticing a lot more things I do not like. And the trouble with that is that I think that when you start noticing things that you do not want, you attract more of that to you. So I try to nip these rants in the bud. If I am in traffic, I make an attempt to find and appreciate things I do like: the birds hunting for bugs in the median strip, with their young begging beside them… some bees collecting pollen on the wildflowers… the large, fluffy clouds and blue sky. One can just as easily find things to appreciate as one can find things to complain about. An avalanche of appreciation is a lot more fun. And it attracts more things to appreciate.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      Yes, and you are right that it begins with the ‘small stuff’ and then builds up until you are really taking the low road to a rumination on your most nagging source of discontent or sadness . . . or to gratitude for the best of what is good in your life. Really ‘a MIND to be contented’ is what matters. Being mindful can help you to CHOOSE what to notice. You construct your own reality. This is no fantasy . . . I read a fascinating article about quantum physics yesterday, that some experiments have recently shown that subatomic particles “decide” how to behave only under observation. Imagine–the real world is not only metaphorically, but can also be literally what we make it. “Good Vibrations” . . . put ’em out there!

      • Mimi Gregor

        I am fascinated by quantum physics, and by how a lot of what was considered “magic” in early cultures is borne out by modern quantum physics — the experiment that you mentioned among them. The observer affects the observed is one that I pay particular attention to. A good introduction to this subject for anyone who is interested is the movie What The Bleep Do We Know, and, of course, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

  • Lisa Riley

    I do struggle with this. Since reading your books and stopping to realize that I literally have everything I’ve always wanted, a great husband, awesome kids, stable career….so why do I let things like dirty clothes left on the floor ir other silly things get to me? Reading about this in your books, blog, and pod cast really helped me to stop and smell the roses. Although I still struggle sometimes when my patience is really thin I always go back to gratitude and it diffuses me.

  • Jeanne

    I realized one day that if a person wanted to, he or she could criticize every single thing anyone else did. If they pick red, they should have picked blue. If they picked blue, they should have picked yellow. Some people live this way a lot of the time. Kind of a game of “you should spend your life trying to please me, and I can never be pleased.” Sometimes I think people do this because they just don’t know how much better it feels to have harmonious, fun relationships than it feels to be right in a battle. As one woman said at a Byron Katie event, “All I know is war.” I like what Dr. Wayne Dyer says in one of his books. “Be a love finder, not a fault finder.”

  • Linda Sue Brown

    Great insight. I do this all the time.I get so wrapped up with what has happened and go over and over in my mind like a wheel turning. Why did they say that? what did they talk to me about that that way. Endless talking in my head. Getting so worked up that I become depressed and go to bed. Your comment- Carping! I will remember this. Like, being bit all the time. Biting off something that doesn’t need to be. Let It G0.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    This is my habit of habits. It’s been a struggle lifelong to stop, and drop into gratitude for WHAT I ALREADY HAVE…instead I find myself focusing on getting more of what I have that I like, or less of what I don’t like, and on and on. Thank you for the reminder to nurture a contented heart.

  • Gillian

    I read about the idea of keeping a blessings jar and finally got round to starting one three years ago. I wish I had started decades ago! To begin with, I would only put in things like a concert or a holiday but slowly I began to see blessings in everyday situations, like a really lovely conversation with a client in work or a book I really enjoyed. Now my jar is quite full and it’s only July! It has made me so much more aware of the things I am grateful for and it’s just brilliant to read through them all on New Year’s Eve – I can’t recommend it highly enough!