Raising Happiness


Cleanliness is Next to Happiness

August 9, 2010 | Walking the Talk | 0 comments

Is it possible to feel calm and centered when your house is a mess?

Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.—George Bernard Shaw

If “cleanliness is next to godliness,” what about basic organization? 

I ask because I’m about to enter into a (hopefully short) period of serious dust and disarray: Today I’m finally moving into a new house!  The kids and I have been nomadic this summer, living mostly with my amazing parents, to whom I’m eternally grateful. 

When we first packed up our house and put all of our belongings into storage, the kids and I did a lot of talking about change and how it makes us feel.  (Unsettled, and also a little frightened.)  So we’ve also been talking a lot about using our positive thinking, our courage, and ways to feel grounded on the inside, even if the outside is in flux.

These seem to me essential skills, useful ones to develop young, giving us the ability to make any environment feel like home, or, at the least, to feel calm and centered no matter the chaos around us.  What better way to develop this skill than to live here and there out of duffle bags for a month or so?

My hope was that we’d settle right into our wandering and find solace in each other and within ourselves rather than in the order and routine of our environment.  And, for the most part, I think we have.  (Maybe because it hasn’t been that big of a challenge: Everything about my parent’s house is very familiar, and they are super-helpful and very fun grandparents.)

But I’ve also noticed something else: When everything has its place, when all the stuff around me is in order, I feel calm.  And when there is stuff stacked everywhere and I’m constantly looking for misplaced sunglasses and lost keys, I always feel a bit jilted.  I am more parts slob than neat-nick; orderliness just doesn’t come all that easily to me.  But still, I feel a thousand times better when things are in their place.  (Probably for this reason, Gretchen Rubin often includes, “Make Your Bed” on her lists of happiness tips.)

I think home organization can probably be grouped with personal cleanliness, a state with clear psychological benefits. We talk about washing away our sins, wiping the slate clean, and psychologists study the “Macbeth effect”:  Washing your hands seems to “scrub away mental turmoil,” according to University of Michigan psychologist Spike Lee

Meditation might help us train our brains to feel calm in the midst of turmoil, but imagine the psychological benefits of getting my whole house in order!  (Who ever visited a messy monastery, after all?) 

This is clearly my Walking the Talk challenge this week: to get the house unpacked and organized BEFORE I launch into the next project.  I know I’m going to be so excited to have our friends over that I’ll be tempted to stash things in closets and under beds, without really getting organized. The challenge for me will be to find a place for everything, to start as I mean to end, or I’ll end up living out of boxes for ages.

So here is the big question I have for you all:  Can you feel calm, centered, collected—TRULY—when your house is a mess?  Because I’ve been known to rationalize my messiness: if I ignore the dirty laundry, I can go outside to play.  Why wash dishes when you can do something more fun, after all?  I’m beginning to see that organization really is an investment in happiness.  What do you think?

© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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