Broken window

Photo: Thinkstock

3 of 20
Fix Your Broken Windows
How the things we neglect—or decide not to—influence our outlook.

"There's a concept in law enforcement known as the broken windows theory, which says that we take cues from our environment—so if a neighborhood shows evidence of minor lawbreaking, like graffiti or vandalism and these things go unchecked, people in that neighborhood become more likely to break bigger laws. But if you address these minor infractions, people start to behave better. It's a controversial theory of policing—but I'm convinced it's the truth when it comes to life. There are small indicators of disorder that unleash in us a feeling that things are out of control. Even if the trigger is just a stack of unsorted mail, that feeling begets other, bigger feelings—namely, guilt and defeat. Maybe your broken window is dirty laundry, a sink full of dishes, clutter on your counter. Whatever it is, it undermines your goals because it gives you a sense of chaos. The act of fixing broken windows, however, is liberating. The task takes on symbolic weight. It doesn't just feel like you're sorting the mail you've been meaning to sort—it feels like you're taking the first step toward doing everything you've been meaning to."

—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home