Guess: What’s the Most Popular Resolution for Happiness?

When people tell me they’ve done their own happiness projects, I always ask, “What resolutions did you try? What worked for you?”

One answer comes up more than any other. I’m not saying that this is the most significant thing you could do to boost your happiness, but it does seem to be a thing that people actually do–and that boosts their happiness.

This most popular resolution? To make your bed.

Now, it’s true that some people thrive on a little chaos. They find a disorderly room to be comfy and casual. When one of my friends was growing up, her mother made such a big deal of keeping the house clean that now my friend has gone far in the opposite direction. Very far. Most people, however, even if they may find it tough to keep things tidy, prefer to live in orderly surroundings.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

If you love a calm environment,  making the bed is one of the quickest, easiest steps to cultivate a sense of order. Also, I get a real feeling of accomplishment from having completed this small task. It’s nice to start the day feeling that I’ve crossed something – however minor – off my list. It starts me off feeling productive, disciplined, and efficient.

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 control. Making your bed is a good place to start. It might help you build momentum to keeping other, more significant resolutions.

If you want ideas for other ways to tackle clutter,  here’s a list of tips.

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.

  • Shaynasmart

    I definitely agree. My partner and I are apart right now since she’s going to truck driving school. I was on a 3 week break from nursing school and it was the MOST stressful 3 weeks I’ve ever had! Everything went wrong since she was gone, and money was getting really tight. So, I made a list of all the cleaning things I wanted to do over break and it really helped me feel like I had some control and made me happier each time I crossed something off my list!

  • Peninith1

    Sometime in the misty past of about 15 years ago, I began making my bed neatly almost every day. Truly, the made bed even in the middle of clothes that still needed to be hung in the closet did create a big space of satisfying order. It’s one space in my house that I can make look picture perfect in 60 seconds or less. Since I am a quilter, I get the added pleasure of seeing my own handiwork at its best. More recently, I have resolved to clean up the kitchen before I go to bed at night. This is part of my before-bed routine, thanks to some of your good ideas, I might add! When I am tired, it sometimes feels a little hard to get through these motions–but OH the pleasure of walking into the kitchen in the morning and finding cleared counters and no dirty dishes in the sink from the night before, and the coffee pot completely ready for me to start the day. There is a great deal of happiness to be found in the rewarding sight of order I have created by myself, for myself. I am worth the effort!

  • http://twitter.com/WTJUClassical Paula O’Buckley

    My roommate bemoans bed-making because her bed looks like a tornado hit it – every morning.  I guess it’s just the way she sleeps.  I don’t have that issue.  When I wake up in the morning, my sheets are still tucked under the mattress, and while it definitely looks “slept-in” I have no trouble neatening up the bed in less than 2 minutes.  I’ve done it for quite some time, and think nothing of it. 
    I do subscribe to your adult maxim about inner calm and outer chaos.  I do wish I didn’t have a life-long struggle with inertia.  Lately, I’ve been able to maintain energy, but get distracted by every little thing.  Focus gets lost in a matter of minutes.  

  • Nancy

    Making the bed is a definite help for me! I also find that in most rooms there is a “bed” that can be “made”  that makes a difference there also. For me, in my family room, if the cushions are on the couch whether or not toys are strewn about, it “feels” better. In the kitchen, it is the table etc. etc. 

  • Erica_JS

    This may be an overly specific question, but any tips on how to make this less of a chore with a bed that’s pushed up against the wall on two sides?  (Unfortunately, there’s no other place it can fit.)  This positioning means I can’t have the blankets drape nicely on all sides – there is always a lot of tugging and jerking and yanking and heavy lifting and sprawling across the mattress to stuff the blankets in between the wall and bed. 

    I wonder if anyone else has had this problem and how they solved it…

    • Susan

      If possible….IKEA (and/or hardware stores, of course) has great selection of wheels for almost everything.  What if your bed were on wheels and could be pulled away from the wall just enough to slide the covers over the edges, and then roll back into place?  This is all I can think of but have lived many years in many places with beds against walls, so I “feel your pain”!  Good luck.

    • gretchenrubin

      Arrrgh. My daughter’s bed is like this. It really is a pain.

    • Amy

       My bed is against the wall like this.  When I change my sheets, I tuck them tightly into the space between the bed and the wall, along with the comforter.   I slide into bed, and manage not to untuck the sheets/comforter till the next washing.  It doesn’t look beautiful to have the bed against the wall, but it is a space-saver in my room. 

    • http://twitter.com/romneymarsh joanna attree

      Get a duvet. They aren’t meant to drape. Then you need only get into the other side to change the sheets. Definitely go for the ones with the elasticated edge, it saves a heap of time.

  • Erica Kain

    I was coaxed by FlyLady into this habit, and it’s simply golden. My only problem is with the cat, so I often make the bed but for the little area surrounding him.

  • Guest

    curious to know how this was polled. I’m betting this was answered more by women, as men don’t seem to be so rigid about such things.

    I find it hard to believe this was more popular than getting a good nights sleep. would be interested to know if the outcome is the same if 100 people were polled, half men and half women.

    I keep a neat, clutter free house but only make my bed about half the time. (if my hubby gets up last, it doesn’t get made.) and it affects my happiness by ZERO. most of us who don’t care are probably not going to take the time to respond.

    • gretchenrubin

      I think you’d be surprised about men and women and their feelings about clutter! From what I hear, it doesn’t fall neatly into male/female lines.

      My own husband is a zealous bed-maker, and in fact usually makes our bed, because I get up an hour before he does. But if he gets up before me, then I will do it. Nice to agree on that.

      I didn’t do a poll on this: “make my bed” is the single answer that people most often give when I say “What resolution did you try? What’s worked for you?” I’ve heard about thousands of resolutions, but of all of them, this is the one I’ve heard most often.

      I don’t think this is the most SIGNIFICANT resolution – I agree, a good night’s sleep is far more important; many, many, MANY things are far more important – but for some reason, this is something that people actually do resolve to do, and then do follow through.

  • http://crazyintrovert.com/ Glori | Crazy Introvert

    Gosh. I (shamefully) admit that I always feel too lazy or tired whenever I think of my making my bed… This post really got me thinking…
    I’m going to start this habit…
    Thanks!
     

  • Susan

    My husband and I are not great housekeepers, but we do have a “rule” about this one – the last person out of the bed makes it.  So I have to say, not olny does it lift my spirits to see those smooth covers, but most of the time they’ve been smoothed by somebody else, now there’s a SERIOUS spirit lifter!  (And I have to respectfully disagree with “Guest” below – not sure it’s a male/female thing, my husband was the one who started it; and I’m not sure it’s “rigid” to do something so simple and quick every day because it makes you feel great to see it done.)  I spent a lot of years “indulging” my laziness in this regard  — the “guilty pleasure” of crawling into a messy bed you’ve let yourself neglect all day and the welcoming luxury of smooth sheets at the end of a long, tiring day….no comparison!

    • Guest

      I’m not saying it’s not a nice thing. It is. (although my husband is not a fan of all the pillows.) I offered the “last one out” rule and it did not go over. So, I decided that just because it’s something I like to do, doesn’t mean it’s important to my husband. And I respect that, because it goes both ways. We try not to nag each other over minutia. Imposing my will over his would be rigid. I want the bed made? I make it. Or not.

      My point was that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me one bit to climb into an unmade bed. Sure, a made bed is nice… But in NO way does it affect my happiness. Just MY opinion. Sorry if I do not agree with the other women who responded.

      And I would still like to poll men to see they would be unhappy

      • Guest

        I would still like to poll men to see if an unmade bed really affects their happiness level. For the majority, I’m betting not. Again, just my opinion.

        As an aside, I also read that it’s healthier to turn down the comforter and let the bed and sheets air out. I believe this is true and do it often. This can be done neatly as well. Usually I save the fully made bed (decorative pillows, throw) for when company is coming. All those extras just annoy me at the end of a long day when I can’t wait to climb in.

        • Peninith1

          I “air” the bed out by leaving it unmade for a little while after I get up . . . making it last thing before I went out to work was my habit when working, now I’m retired I do it after breakfast.

        • http://twitter.com/romneymarsh joanna attree

          Yes, surely its better to let the bed air by leaving the covers back during the day? It needs that time to dry out.  It is also beneficial for keeping down things like dust mites, because they don’t like sunlight. 

          I only have a duvet and pillows anyway. Trying to make a bed is no achievement unless you’ve got a load of useless decor on there – in which case, cut the decor and find an useful daily task instead. Like cleaning your sink…

  • Erin

    Hmmm….I have two youngish kids, and once I leave my master bed/bath area around 8 a.m., I rarely go in there again until it’s time to fall into bed. Rinse, repeat. So for me, I’d rather spend my two minutes neatening up one of the main living areas. Maybe as my kids get older I’ll spend more time in my own bedroom, but right now I’m hardly there, so making the bed is not a priority. I’d make it at 7:30, and then the next time I’d see it would be 10:30 when I’d be climbing in!

  • Ella

    Weird I would never think of not making my bed! The idea of getting into an unmade bed to go to sleep at night just seems weird to me as though my night before is unfinished. I am very neat but my house is not painfully so. Everything has a place and before I go to bed I tidy and in the morning I make beds and tidy a bit more but during the day I don’t get bent out of shape when stuff is hanging around. A messy house makes me stressed. I grew up with a lot of siblings and my poor parents could barely keep ahead of us to keep the house clean so my house was quite messy all the time. Nothing was ever where  it should be and things often got lost. We had chores but it didn’t take long for the carpet to get messy, dishes to get piled in the sink and wet towels to accumulate in the bathroom! It drove me nuts. I wonder if some of us are born with a gene that makes us less tolerant of messiness. 

    • Kate

      A friend once said to me – Kate, I am impressed you can drive with such a dirty windshield! Dirty it was and truth be told, the dirt didn’t bother me.  I am not by nature a tidy person and am able put up with lots of mess. But since reading the Happiness Project, I have made more of an effort to keep my work and living space cleaner, tidier – and true, it does help me feel more happy.

      • Ella

        It’s funny you say that because I recently decided to stop cleaning my son’s study. I figured 1) He did not seem to mind it dirty 2) It was a never ending task… Funny thing he got fed up and cleaned it himself and here I thought he had a really high tolerance for mess. Turns out he just liked it when I cleaned!

  • http://www.existation.com/ Rachel

    This has continuously been on my Monday “fresh start” to do list, and I usually never end up doing it…but the few times I have, it’s completely changed the way my day started! 

  • http://twitter.com/mmreyna7 Monica

    This is an example of pleasure, that leaves us feeling accomplished when we are done with it. I talked about the differences between Joy and Pleasure on my recent blog post at http://cradlecatholic3.blogspot.com/. You were part of my inspiration to create a blog so thank you, I listed your site on my page. God bless. :)

  • Angela

    This makes a lot of sense. For the past ten years I’ve used the state of my bed as a barometer for my mood. If the bed is made and has all it’s pillows, I am relatively “okay,” if the sheets are rumpled or even barely covering the mattress, not so much.

  • Kate

    This brought back some great memories of my mom: “Make the bed every day” was her New Year’s Resolution every single year, that I recall.  Of course, that demonstrates that she never truly mastered the resolution!

    As for me, I lived for 15 years in a studio.  Bed was made without fail every day because it was IN my living room.

    Now that I have a nice spacious one-bedroom, with the bedroom down the hall from the living room, I don’t worry about it very much anymore.  As someone else said, I’d rather tidy something “public,” like the coffee table.

    That said, I think having something attainable like this on a to-do list can really help a person feel a sense of accomplishment, and even a small sense of accomplishment at the beginning of the day can create a nice domino effect all day long….

  • Jannpoet

    You have just reminded me that I haven’t made my bed today! I have been busy in the office however it is usually the one of the first things I do and I love to walk into a nice tidy bedroom.

  • Caworrell1

    I like a clean uncluttered life. The made bed I always enjoy. I recently found my true happiness i found it by mistake about a month ago. I was down in the Bahamas staying at the Cove my suit was clean easy and simple eveything had its place and of course the bed was made. So after a long day of walking the island i returned to my room to find the lights dimmed low the sound of smooth jazz filled the air my bed was turned down everything was in place for me to relax and enjoy my inner peace. It was at that moment when i found my long lost friend happiness. I was able to enjoy this treatment for several nights. When i feel over stressed or unhappy i turn my own room into that oasis i found and i lay there and let my worries fade away. A simple solution to make me happy i just needed find it without looking for it.

  • http://www.structureinanunstructuredlife.com/ Beth

    Funny – I just last week wrote in a blog post that making my bed was one of the little things that made me happy. Which is ironic because as a kid I hated to make my bed – I always thought it was such a waste of time! But now, having that order and neatness as I leave my room in the morning and when I return to it at night just brings a little calmness to the start and end of my day. It is such a small and somewhat meaningless act, but makes such a difference in my attitude and outlook!

  • http://www.thebestchapter.com/ Diana Bletter

    This idea is fascinating, Gretchen. I wrote about the “To Make Or Not Make…Your Bed” debate here: http://thebestchapter.com/2012/05/22/tool-for-tuesday-to-make-or-not-to-make-your-bed/ because it signifies so much!

  • http://www.trade-schools.net/blog/author/Jen-Johnston.aspx Jen

    I absolutely understand the “making the bed” thing! I do this every morning, even though I could be spending my time elsewhere. In a house with two young kids, order is rare. But I know that they won’t mess up the bed, since it’s out of their zone. So, when I flop onto it at the end of the day, I have one tiny spot in the house I can relax in that’s organized and tidy.

    It’s good to know I’m not neurotic and this is actually normal!

  • http://www.JeremiahStanghini.com/ Jeremiah Stanghini

    I wonder if cleaning up one’s desk (or workspace) would be the next logical task in the sequence. I’ve found that some folks have a hard time working if their workspace is disorderly.