My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Former Navy SEAL and I Agree on an Important Habit. Not What You Might Expect.

mcravenWhenever I talk to people about their happiness projects, I ask, “What have you tried? What works for you?”

People tell me a million things they’ve done, but to my astonishment, the one resolution that comes up the most often — and this isn’t the most significant thing you could do to boost your happiness, but it does seem to be the thing that people most often try, and that does work — is to make your bed.

“Make the bed” is one of the most popular happiness-project resolutions, and in fact, the habit of bed-making is correlated with a sense of greater well-being and higher productivity.

I write a lot about this issue of “making your bed” in The Happiness Project and in Happier at Home — and it also comes up in my forthcoming book about habit-formation — so I got a big kick out of seeing that when Naval Adm. William McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin a few days ago, he specifically mentioned the resolution to…make your bed.

Here’s the video, here’s what he says:

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.

If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

I wholeheartedly agree.

I also think that for many people — like me — an unmade bed is a broken window, which is why “Make the bed” is one of the most popular happiness-project resolutions, and in fact, the habit of bed-making is correlated with a sense of greater well-being and higher productivity.

 

(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 profound 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.)

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?

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