Title: Making your Bed
Activity: Make your bed every morning
Science: This simple task has been shown to have positive effects in three important aspects of well-being: happiness, sleep, and productivity.
According to a survey of 68,000 people by Hunch.com, only 27% of people make their beds in the morning (59% of people don’t make their beds and 12% pay for a housekeeper to do it for them). What’s surprising is that 71% of the people who make their beds consider themselves happy, while 62% of the people who do not make their beds claim to be unhappy. This data is correlational and not causal, meaning it does not definitively prove bed making results in increased happiness, though the high correlations demonstrate that the two concepts are heavily related.
Additionally, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey from 2010, people who make their beds every day or almost every day are more likely to experience a good night’s sleep every day or almost every day (44%) compared to those who make their bed less often or not at all (37%), representing a 19% difference in sleep experience.
There are many influential happiness and productivity authors who back up these claims and offer additional anecdotes. Below you will find a curated selection of quotes from Gretchen Rubin, Charles Duhigg, and Navy Seal William H. McCraven.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, explains “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.”
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit whom we met in an earlier post, explains “making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.” Duhigg goes on to explain that bed-making is a keystone habit, a baseline habit that encourages additional habit making and positive behavior.
Navy Seal William H. McCraven, author of Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World, comments “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.”
Results: This was, without a doubt, the easiest task I have ever set out to accomplish on a daily basis. I had no issues making my bed every day, regardless of how I was feeling in the morning and whether or not I was traveling (yes, I made my beds every morning in hotels and guest houses as well). I anecdotally noticed an increase in positive emotions in the morning after making my bed — starting off my day on a positive note each morning seemed to get the ball rolling for other positive thoughts and behaviors.
Next Steps: I plan to make my bed every day for the rest of my life, while encouraging those around me to do the same. The clear benefits of such a simple task are too significant to ignore.
Duhigg, Charles. The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
McRaven, William H. Make Your Bed Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World. New York: Grand Central, 2017. Print.
The Happiness Project with Gretchen Rubin: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2009/08/make-your-bed/
National Sleep Foundation (PDF): https://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/bedroompoll/NSF_Bedroom_Poll_Report.pdf
Title: Physical Activity
Activity: Exercise every day and reflect on how you feel before, during, and after.
Science: Physical activity psychology has increased in popularity over the years, now with multiple scientific journals dedicated exclusively to the topic. There have been numerous studies demonstrating correlations between physical activity and well-being — I’ll summarize just three of them here:
Results: I focused on four primary types of physical activity: walking (low-intensity), running (high-intensity), yoga (low-intensity), and indoor cycling (high-intensity). For additional motivation, I also signed up for a half-marathon on April 30th — I find having a goal to work towards helps me push through any number of reasons I can make up to skip a workout. Finally, I engaged with a friend to enlist the benefit of social norms into the early stages of creating a physical exercise routine. Having encouragement from and responsibility to a friend resulted in additional motivation to exercise on a daily basis (more on this in a later post).
Next Steps: I plan to continue my routine of physical activity, especially not wanting to lose the momentum I have been able to build up since making it a focus. To this effect, I purchased a yoga mat for my apartment to facilitate exercises at home for busy days and will be attempting a marathon later in the year. I also plan to directly integrate running into my process for decision-making.
Psychology of Physical Activity: Determinants, Well-Being and Interventions.
By Stuart J. H. Biddle, Nanette Mutrie.
Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity. Joshua J Broman-Fulksa, Mitchell E Bermana, Brian A Rabianb, Michael J Websterc. Behaviour Research and Therapy
Volume 42, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 125–136.
Physical Exercise and Psychological Well-Being: A Population Study in Finland
Peter Hassmén. Preventive Medicine. Volume 30, Issue 1, January 2000, Pages 17-25
Long-Term Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Psychological Outcomes. Thomas M. DiLorenzo, Eric P. Bargman, Renée Stucky-Ropp, Glenn S. Brassington, Peter A. Frensch, Thomas LaFontaine. Preventive Medicine. Volume 28, Issue 1, January 1999, Pages 75-85
I am taking a step away from positive interventions to highlight some quotes from “The Book of Joy: Lasting Hope in a Changing World,” a new book authored by The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The book is divided into three sections, The Nature of True Joy, The Obstacles to Joy, and The Eight Pillars of Joy.
Hope and Optimism
Title: Disconnecting Before Sleep
Activity: Do not use your phone for 30+ minutes before going to sleep. To aid in this, set your alarm for the next day and charge your phone, ideally out of reach from your bed.
Science: Recently, there’s been a lot of research and discussion around improving sleep patterns and our dependence on technology. For this intervention, let’s focus on the scientific overlap of these two topics. First, it has been shown that the blue light emitted from smartphones can inhibit the production of melatonin, that pesky hormone that helps you sleep and maintains your circadian rhythm. Second, the activities we tend to use our phone for (e.g. texting, social media, emails, and articles) tend to keep your mind engaged, making it harder to shut down and eventually fall asleep. And of course, it has been shown that the majority of us keep at least one electronic device in the bedroom creating a potentially endless loop of device checking.
Results: I succeed in disconnecting for the majority of the month — there were a few nights in which I slipped up (I’m not perfect!), but more often than not I was phone-less for 30+ minutes before sleeping. The actual impact was noteworthy. By the end of the month I was drifting to sleep more easily, I mostly lost the urge to check my phone at night, and I never went to check my phone if I happened to wake up during the night.
Next Steps: I purposefully started with “no phone 30 minutes before bed” knowing there were a bunch of opportunities to extend the habit much further. In the coming months, I plan to continue to focus on the 30 minutes before bed mission, while slowly introducing a similar morning routine, e.g. no phone 30 minutes after waking up. Ultimately, I hope this lifestyle change extends much further than a method to sleep better and eventually serves to lessen my phone dependence in a much more holistic way.
Title: Habit Forming
Activity: Decide on 3-6 habits you would like to form or goals you would like to achieve. Break down each habit or goal into a short title (e.g. meditate) and a short description (e.g. meditate for 10 minutes every day). Track each habit/goal every day for one month.
Science: Understanding the science behind habit forming is the first step to analyzing your own habits and figuring out how to implement or change them. Habits start with a “habit loop,” a three step process that involves a trigger (or cue), a routine, and a reward. A trigger may be going to a cafe or a certain time of day, a routine may be eating a brownie or going to the gym, and a reward may be the taste of dessert or release of endorphins. To form a habit, think about a habit loop that will work for you. To break a habit, first determine the trigger for the routine and then, using trial and error, start changing the routine to break the loop. For example, if every day at around 3pm you go out to smoke, try eating a snack, having a coffee, or socializing with a friend instead. It helps to think about what is it about 3pm that triggers the routine — is it related to boredom? Higher stress after recurring meetings? Getting hungry? It may take some time to pinpoint the exact triggers and routines that work for you.
Keep in mind, forming (or breaking) habits takes time. Most people have heard the myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case. In fact, updated research has shown that it can vary form 18 to 254 days depending on the task, the person, and the circumstances.
Results: I focused on the following six habits: 1) out of bed by 7:45 AM, 2) Meditate for 15 minutes, 3) Exercise, 4) 1+ hour of Spanish practice, 5) No phone before bed, and 6) Floss. I tracked my success rate for each habit every day and created a percentage score at the end of the month. [Results to be added].
Next Steps: I plan to think about the habits most important to me (e.g. no phone before bed, exercising in the morning, and maintaining a healthy diet) and work on creating habit loops to automate the process. The more I can accomplish in 2017, the better off I’ll be in the future.
Duhigg, Charles. The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
Title: Three Good Things
Activity: Every day, write down three good things that happened before going bed; briefly reflect on each thing – why did it make you happy?
Science: Gratitude has been proven to be an important factor of happiness and well-being. The general idea is simple: when we experience gratitude we are focused on positive facets of life, rather than the negative. Unfortunately, it is extremely easy to focus on negative events and thoughts; in fact, it has been argued that we are evolutionary wired to do exactly that. The good news? Gratitude isn’t fixed, we can actually cultivate it. And that’s the exact idea behind this exercise: by recounting three good things that happened every day we are actively refocusing our brain to think positively, or more specifically, to be grateful for the positive facets of our lives.
Results: Each night in January I wrote my three good things in a journal before going to bed. Some days it was extremely easy to think of three things that made me happy, while other times I found myself digging deep to find that 3rd thing. The variance in relative importance between days was pretty significant, with big things like “spent the day with my two best friends in Cuba,” to relatively smaller things like “found time to enjoy coffee and a good book,” to “got a text from a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while.”
Thoughts: I had a few interesting realizations after completing this exercise:
Next Steps: Nothing unexpected here – I plan to continue the exercise for the foreseeable future. It’s not every day you discover a low cost (a few minutes every night), high reward (increased gratitude and well-being) activity like this.
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.
Hi and welcome!
Positive psychology is a relatively new scientific study focused on understanding and cultivating happiness and well-being. Over the last few decades there has been an abundance of positive psychology research produced by academics from all over the world. Within this research are numerous simple-to-implement interventions that are actually scientifically proven to increase well-being. How cool is that? Unfortunately… these academic findings are not always published in an easy-to-access or understand manner, making them difficult to implement. On top of that, even when we know about positive interventions, we still sometimes fail to incorporate them into our lives in a consistent way.
That’s where this site comes in — the overarching idea is to introduce you to some of these academic findings and detail how they can be incorporated into your life. To this effect, I will personally attempt scientifically proven interventions, detailing the process, the science, and the end results. I’ll also throw in one-off articles detailing additional research related to happiness and well-being that I hope you’ll find interesting. Feel free to comment or ask questions as you please.
P.S. please reference the “resources” tab to see other sites, articles, and books that have much more information than this site!