What Are Your ‘Broken Windows?’ Here’s a List of Mine
The “broken windows theory” of policing holds that when a community tolerates minor examples of disorder and petty crime, such as broken windows, graffiti, turnstile-jumping, or drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes.
As a law-enforcement theory, it’s controversial, but whether or not it’s true on a city-wide level, I think it’s true on a personal level.
My “broken windows” are the particular signs of disorder that make me feel out of control and overwhelmed.
- Unsorted mail
- Messy stacks of newspapers
- Shoes in odd places
- Cluttered counters
- Dirty dishes scattered around the apartment (for my husband, as he often emphatically reminds me, dirty dishes left overnight are broken windows; for me, as long as the dishes make it into the sink, life feels under control)
“Be wise with what you have. Be wise with what you are using. When you have something and you are not using it, you are telling the universe that you don’t have the room to be blessed with more.”
Dr. Robin Smith
From what I’ve observed, people’s other “broken windows” often include:
- Staying in pajamas or sweats all day
- Eating food straight from the container
- Wearing stained or ripped clothes
- Goofing off at work, even if no one notices
- Piles of laundry or trash
- An unmade bed
About the last item: surprisingly, whenever I ask people what resolutions they’ve tried and that make them happier, “Make my bed” is the most common resolution that’s mentioned. It’s a very trivial thing, but it makes a big difference. (By the way, a survey by the National Sleep Foundation showed that people who make their bed are more likely to report a better night’s rest.)
Does fixing a broken window really matter? After all, in the context of a happy life, a pile of unsorted mail isn’t a big deal. In themselves, perhaps, these broken windows don’t matter much. But enforcing small signs of order makes us feel more in control–and happier.
What are your “broken windows”? They’re different for different people. Do you agree that small signs of disorder can make you feel out of control, generally?
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Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.