We all remember that loving (read: nagging) voice telling us to make our bed before leaving the house. It always seemed so trivial to me. I mean, I was just going to be getting back in my bed in 15 hours. What was the point?
As a teenager, it seemed like this was just Mom’s efforts to keep my room looking nice. But—whether she realized it or not—maybe she was onto something much more significant than a tidy room.
Before diving into bed-making specifically, I first want to shed light on a newer movement called Positive Psychology, which is the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive (Gable & Haidt, 2005; Sheldon & King, 2001). Western society and medicine functions on a deficit model: where are we lacking?; what needs to be healed?; what dysfunctions need to be fixed? In contrast to this, Positive Psychology focuses its attention on human flourishing and on discovering how we can optimize functioning.
In this more positive approach to human well-being, it has been found that even small positive habits can lead to big positive life changes. Enter: making your bed every morning. Not sure that such a small act would lead to anything than a slightly cleaner bedroom? Well, you’re in good company. Hunch.com (a former website that helped people make decisions based on how they answered questions on user-created quizzes) conducted a survey about their bed-making habits. Of the 68,000 people who responded, only 27 percent said that they made their beds daily, 59 percent (over 40,000 people!) did not, and 12 percent had a housekeeper make their beds for them.
If that stat seems to rationalize your decision to keep the covers where they are—on the floor, the same survey also found that 71 percent of those who made their beds also said that they were happy with their lives while 62 percent of those who did not make their beds reported being unhappy. Although this data isn’t causal (making your bed does not cause you to be happy) there is still something to be said about the strong correlation between making your bed and having a happier, more satisfied life.
For those with more severe symptoms, like clinical anxiety or clinical depression, small rituals like making your bed can lead to big improvements. Although not a cure-all or a quick fix, structure and routine have been found to help manage depressive and manic symptoms (Copeland, The Depression Workbook). Although this structure and routine are important throughout the day, psychologist Dr. Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC notes: “How you start your morning sets the tone for the day.”
Bed-making, in particular, may have significant importance for this structure. Dr. J. Ryan Fuller, a New York-based psychologist, has found that “It is critical that depressed clients, or those of us who want to be more satisfied with our lives, get up and begin engaging in behaviors that indicate we have control and can manage the day.” He especially likes “making your bed because it can become a natural link in the chain of starting a productive day.”
As noted by Dr. Fuller, adding structure and taking control of the day through something as simple as making our bed has beneficial outcomes for every single person. Going back to that hunch.com survey, the data also found correlations between bed-making and other life outcomes. Bed makers were more likely to like their jobs, to own a home, to exercise regularly, and to feel well rested. There was a clear trend that, over all, those who made their beds daily tended towards higher success and—perhaps more importantly—personal satisfaction.
Now for the big “w” question: WHY? Are there any other factors at play besides adding structure/routine and feeling control? Accomplished Navy Admiral William H. McCraven thinks so. He told Navy graduates during his 2014 commencement speech, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” Expounding on this seemingly silly suggestion, he claimed, “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
There seems to be something to this sentiment. According Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, making your bed can actually boost productivity and create stronger skills at sticking with a budget (The Power of Habit). In addition to the already mentioned structure, routine, and taking control of your day, Duhigg is convinced that making your bed prepares you for other things you probably don’t feel like doing—like working, studying, having tough conversations, and all the other things that go into being a successful person.
Duhigg also suggests that bed-making is a gateway to other feel-good habits, like exercising and cooking nutritious meals at home. A scientific study found that when participants focused on small changes—like cooking one meal a week, improving their posture or going to bed a few minutes earlier, the improvement was likely to spread to other habits (Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts & Wardle, 2009). Although not specifically studied, it is very reasonable to presume that bed-making would have this positive outcome as well.
Still not convinced? You might say that any structure or routine or good habit is enough to get these feel-good outcomes. True. But there are a couple of compelling reasons for bed-making specifically. First, making your bed starts your day with actively decluttering one of the most important spaces in your life. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Dana Gionta explains how being organized is incredibly beneficial for our mental health. But not only does having a tidy, peaceful room help with the day ahead of us. A clean bedroom—starting with the bed—lays the foundation for better sleep and a healthier life.
I admit that for most of my life I was in the non-bed-making camp. With the morning craze of getting dressed, fed, and out the door, it was the last thing on my mind. But all of the science has compelled me to give it a try. Want to join me? At the very least it will keep you from being embarrassed should anyone find their way to your bedroom—especially Mom!