Make Your Bed.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I’ve written about the resolution to Make your bed before, and I’m bringing it up again. Why? To my astonishment, when I’ve asked people what happiness-project resolution has made a big difference in their happiness, many people cite the modest “Make your bed.”

Happiness is a lofty aim, and making your bed is such a prosaic activity. Why does it boost happiness so effectively?

From my own experience, and what people have told me, I think there are two reasons.

First, making your bed is a step that’s quick and easy, yet makes a big difference. Everything looks neater. It’s easier to find your shoes. Your bedroom is a more peaceful environment. For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

Second, sticking to any resolution – no matter what it is – brings satisfaction. You’ve decided to make some change, and you’ve stuck to it. Because making my bed is one of the first things I do in the morning, I start the day feeling efficient, productive, and disciplined.

(Now, some people say that, to the contrary, they revel in not making their beds. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is The opposite of a great truth is also true, and for some people, a useful resolution might be “Don’t make your bed.” One person wrote to me, “My mother was so rigid about keeping the house tidy when I was a child that now I get a huge satisfaction from not making my bed, not hanging up my coat, etc. It makes me feel free.” Some people thrive on a little chaos. Everyone’s happiness project is different.)

True, making your bed is a small gesture – but that’s one reason that it’s a good resolution. Sometimes the steps toward happiness seem insurmountable. Getting a job in a brutal work market, dealing with a troubled child, living with chronic pain – there are no easy solutions to these happiness challenges.

Especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, picking one little task to improve your situation, and doing it regularly, can help you regain a sense of self-mastery. Making your bed is a good place to start, and tackling one easy daily step is a good way to energize yourself for tougher situations.

What about you? Does making your bed – or not making your bed – contribute in a small way to your happiness? Or have you found other manageable resolutions that have brought more happiness than you would’ve expected?

* I was mesmerized by this little video I saw on Gimundo — collaborative time-lapse painting.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 26,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • jade lee

    I’ve made my bed every day for one month and it feels great!

  • http://deependofstupid.wordpress.com Slackerjo

    Making my bed in the morning fills me with a sense of accomplishment. I seldom get that at work so it’s important that I get it at home.

  • Anu

    I never used to make my bed. My (always happy) boyfriend of a year is a habitual bed-maker though and most days he makes our bed. I find myself making the bed when he’s not around too! And I do feel calmer. 

  • frogmonkey

    My mother used to make my bed for me when I was a small child, and the sheets were so tight that when I went to bed I could barely move. I would thrash around until my bed was a mess just so I could fall asleep without feeling trapped. Because of this I don’t like making my bed because the messy pile of sheets and blankets are more comfortable. Since my fiance and I have been living together I make the bed when he is home because he cannot leave for work with an unmade bed. It’s just the way he is. It makes me happy to make the bed when he is home because I know it makes him happy. When he’s not home it makes me happy to not make the bed :). I guess I get the best of both worlds!

  • http://twitter.com/JohnQCanuck John Q. Canuck

    Before landing here, I first read your article “Do it for yourself, not for others” and got a good laugh about the making of hotel beds. I thought “wow, that’s obsessive-compulsive”, since the maid is going to tear it apart and re-make it with clean sheets anyway.

    However, this is all about happiness. It is not my place to question what makes other people happy or not. For me, whether the bed gets made or not is irrelevant to my happiness. I am looking for a deeper sense of satisfaction that does not come from superficial activities. However, a clean house or a clean room can certainly reduce stress levels (particularly for my spouse), so doing a really good job of cleaning up does bring some joy even though doing the actual work itself can be rather tedious. I also remember having a very clean room as a child (I did it myself) so maybe by getting back to that it might help me get to a point where I feel more in control in other areas of my life. Although, being the parent of two teenagers, somehow I doubt that.

    I think a general sense of happiness requires that we strike a balance in the important areas of life – living in the present, rather than the past or future, making an effort to be kind more often than to always need to be “right”, and focusing more on those things that we are capable of changing (if change is desired) rather than those things which are outside our own control. One thing we can control is how we react to those things that happen beyond our control – do we worry about things too much or can we train ourselves to react in a different way – with humour perhaps or with action rather than paralysis or whining?

    I see too many people around me stressing out about things that really don’t matter, and it makes them unhappy. I am trying more and more each day to seek joy in the simple things in life, and find that happiness is an attitude (a state of mind) rather than a goal to strive for. For example, when it starts to snow I could get stressed out because on Monday I will have to shovel it and drive to work in it – or I could live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of the snowflakes and the smiles on the faces of the children that can’t wait to get outside and play in it. In fact I might even join them!

  • Nadja

    I love made beds and I totally agree that a made bed will make a room look cosier and more tidy. But I’m allergic to dustmites and so I never make my bed – they tend to multiply easier when they have a warm blanket over their ugly heads. Plus, I have a bunk bed and so nobody – not even me – can see the messy bed.

    Nadja

  • Sarah

    As a child I don’t remember whether I made my bed or not, as a teen I made it sporadically…and now as an adult I make it almost everyday. Having a few pretty decorative pillows help encourage me to make my bed regularly, and my room looks better. Also, a made bed really does give me a small sense of accomplishment and often makes me feel more productive.

    Lastly, even when I made my bed sporadically, that was the first thing I did when cleaning my room (It made the job seem less overwhelming).

  • Michael Peachey

    At my first “real business job” post-college, I worked with an older guy. In retrospect he was probably 50, but I was 23, so he seemed much older. One day, I asked him for advice, for something he had learned by experience that I could just jump on, and not have to wait to learn on my own. Surprisingly, he had 4 things ready at hand.

    First, “Make your bed, everyday.” The rationale was pretty much as described by the Navy Seal you mentioned in your blog. It gives you an early accomplishment, setting the stage for a day of success. And, if you have a crappy day, it’s nice to finally lie down in a clean and well-made bed.

    Second, “Start your tooth brushing or face shaving in a different spot each day than the day before.” The rationale was that it requires you to be present in a routine task early in the day, again setting the stage for a day of awareness and presence.

    Third, “Always take a different route to work, or home, than you took the day before.” The rationale was much like the shaving advice, it requires you to be present in a routine. It also opens up new experiences. This was a big one when in lived in NYC, 3 blocks across town and 6 blocks uptown from the subway. I had literally hundreds of options to walk to the station, and got to see different blocks at different times of the year.

    And, fourth, “Even when you are eating take-out food, use real utensils, take it out of the box and put it on a place, and use cloth napkins.” The rationale is that even when you are too tired to make your own food, you can still give yourself the papering of a real meal. Also works great on dates -:)

    I don’t remember the guy’s name anymore. But, I’ve gratefully used his advice to great benefit over the years.