Make your bed, start your day, live your life. That’s a mantra supported by a good deal of captivating data around some of the principles of living a successful life.
Of course, there are plenty of variables, but starting your day by launching out of your bed and taking the time to pull up the sheets and smooth the cover has significant life benefits.
I recently watched this speech by Admiral McRaven at a commencement event for the University of Texas. In it, he outlines all the reasons why making your bed has payoffs beyond the initial relief of looking at a well-made space in your home at the start of every day: “The idea of making the bed is it’s the same sense of discipline. It’s the same sense that you’re going to get up and do something, but it’s an easy task to undertake. You roll out of bed, you just put your bed, you make it straight. Again, you get it right, too. It’s not just about kind of throwing the covers over the pillow. It’s about making your bed right and walking away and going, “OK, that’s good. That looks good. I’m, as simple as it sounds, I’m proud of this little task I did.” And that is really what I think sets the tone for the rest of the day.”
I was also taken by this interview with Mel Robbins, explaing how she learned how to outsmart her brain and move from despair and fear into winning at her life again. This one really moved me. I love her honesty and her ability to articulate her own fears.
Of course, as I was thinking about why I wanted to write about this idea of recharging your life starting with something so simple, it was because I had an unmade bed and a tired brain that was frustrated about small things and big things.
And as I was thinking about it, I realized the importance of addressing all the various ways that this post might affect all of us, no matter where we are in life. I realized that our state of mind plays a significant role in our ability to metabolize this advice. Feeling hopeless is a real and significant feeling that needs to be honored and treated gently.
If you’re a kid in high school, a college student in a dorm room, a young professional in a shared house, a person in between homes surfing couches or finding shelter in places you didn’t imagine, a single dad living with your parents, or the master of your own domain, king or queen of your castle, head of your household, or the busiest professional you know with nary a moment to eat let alone make your bed–ask yourself these questions and arrive at your own conclusions: 1) Do I have a place to sleep? 2) Do I have a bedroom (or designated bed space)? 3) Do I have bedding? If you answered Yes to these three questions, then you, my friend, are doing very well. (It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to the foundational principles of a happy life, though–more on that later.)
But even if you don’t have your own bedroom, or a comfortable bed, or fancy bedding like plush pillows and a duvet cover or a special blanket, you can still start your day with the same principles in mind. Whether you live in shared sleeping quarters, or you sleep in a sleeping bag, or you can’t afford a single extra piece of bedding, there are still some majorly beautiful things you can do to make your morning routine feel like an investment in your sanity and your health and happiness. And it starts with how you handle where you sleep. Seriously.
I used to quietly pooh-pooh the whole home decorating industry, this whole overtly organized, type-A enterprise that rewarded people with money and fed into a capitalistic push to have new, better things all the time. While I still feel strongly that it doesn’t matter where we live or how our home looks, just as long as we’re thinking and doing good in the world, I now also have another take on it, it turns out, and it goes something like this: Your space is your palace. It’s yours. It’s where you begin, and end. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tent in the middle of the I-5 corridor—it’s yours. Take care of it. It’s an investment in yourself.
Did you ever play that game M*A*S*H when you were a kid? It’s this game where you sit around with your friends and you write MASH at the top, then outline a bunch of other open categories around the perimeter of a circle below the header—several dream careers and a few outlandish ones (totally subjective to you), car models you might own (Acura Integra, BMW convertible, used Honda Civic, super-green hybrid), how many pets you might have (five gerbils? One dog? Twenty cats?), how many kids (zero? One? 25?), and then the biggie: Who You Might Marry. Then while a friend spins a spiral out of pencil lead on a piece of paper, you close your eyes and yell “STOP” when you feel energetically pulled to ensure that your fate has been properly sealed. And the person in charge counts the rings of the spiral, counts around the periphery and crosses off everything that collides with the final number, and your fate is created: M stands for Mansion; A stands for Apartment; S stands for shack; and H stands for House.
Where will you land? And what’s right for you?
I have always been a sucker for chance, for fate, for the pull of the tide. I’ve thought that if I did A I would achieve B, and if I worked hard and focused on the good and had gratitude and got up every day and did the right thing, I’d arrive at Happy–at that obscurely sublime place called Easy Street where life is good and solid–even in the middle of the supremely unexpected upheaval, life would be controllable at some level.
The thing I have ended up really seeing lately is that it’s all chance. It’s not this fantastic thing you control: How To End up in a Mansion or Shack–take steps A, B, and C to ensure said outcome. There are so many routes to take. It’s not that simple. You can do the very best you can and choose all the “right” things and there are still variables outside of your control that might bolster or belittle you.
Does that mean you shouldn’t work hard and aim your compass at your destination? No, not at all. Keep doing that. Does it mean you shouldn’t keep studying for your exam or choosing health and wellness over stress? No, not at all. Keep doing that. Does it mean you shouldn’t keep watching for the best choice you can make for your heart when you choose your partner in life? No, not at all. Keep doing that. Does it mean you should sit back and let life take you where it will, because you have no choice in the matter? No, not at all. Don’t succumb to that invasive rhetoric.
But does it mean that there are things completely, entirely, adamantly outside of your control? YES. And your job as a resilient, beautiful, fully alive human being is to feel those feelings, watch them dance in front of you, honor them, and move through them thoughtfully and respectfully.
I recently watched this TED talk by Psychologist Susan David about how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. Susan speaks about a beautiful thing called emotional agility, which recognizes that things aren’t always sunny and easy all the time. At all. Challenges happen. How we deal with those challenges, and who we call on to support us, or the way that we feel that support, helps us get through our challenge–whatever it might be.
That’s emotional agility.
I mentioned in a previous post that last year was an incredibly difficult one for my family. As it turns out, the force that got me through it all was a huge combination of friends, family, and support–but the one that surprised me the most was my grandma, who died in 2002. The little silk dress hanging on my lamp in the photo above was hand-stitched by her arthritic hands long ago–maybe 60 years ago? Suddenly she showed up all over the place to tell me: I saw, I understand, I know. On a particularly low day last summer, my daughter suddenly showed up in my room at the end of the day with this dress that she had found in her treasure trove of doll clothes. She said, “Mom, do you think you want this dress? Great-Grammy made it. See? I feel like she wants you to have it.” Goosebumps. I hadn’t mentioned to my daughter any of my feelings about my Grammy being present in my life in a particular way.
I had the immense privilege of holding hands with my sister, my cousin, and my mom around my Grammy’s death bed when she died at 95 years old. I remember her exhaling breath as she passed. And then the candle on the windowsill blew out. And she was gone. I remember thinking that she seemed like she was heading somewhere. There was a smile on her face.
Despite her death 15 years ago, she kept showing up in my dreams in 2017 and in quiet moments when she arrived out of the ethers to remind me through a greeting card quote or a trinket my kids found in storage, or a gift from out of nowhere–that life is a constantly changing trajectory, sometimes without a clear beginning or end. But, she would seem to say to me, we are all connected in this. We are all pressed against each other. Time is relative.
My Grammy was the queen of the age-old adage, “Make lemonade out of lemons.” She, more than anyone else I know, would be a proponent of making my bed every morning to start the day in the right direction.
And that is why her hand-stitched doll gown is hanging on my nightstand: It is one of the first things and the last things I see every day. It reminds me to roll up my sleeves and get the little things done, one by one.
Starting with the bed.
Here are a few tips for making your sleep (and your bed, and your day) work for you:
- Change your sheets often.
- Make or find a throw pillow or two to add cheer.
- Keep it simple–just a duvet or a blanket will do.
- Add a throw blanket at the base of the bed.
- Make it the most comfortable, sleepy, quiet, place you possibly can.
- Keep a few special reminders near your bed, especially focused on people who love you.
Happy bed making. 🙂