Why Folding a Fitted Sheet is the Worst Thing That Will Happen to You

Or, How I Stopped Chasing Happiness and Learned to Love the Process

There is was — the damn fitted sheet — sitting on the bottom of the laundry basket. I leave it for last every time. The time was late. I was tired and crabby. I know there’s a YouTube video I could watch, or some five-step guide to folding the perfect fitted sheet, but I prefer the fight.

The thing’s got no real corners — nothing sharp and neat, like its top counterpart. No, the fitted sheet is at best a bastard cousin of the rest of the laundry basket. All the others have a process — shirts, socks, even the odd-shaped clothes.

But not the fitted sheet. No matter how hard I try to fold it nicely, the thing looks like I rolled it into a ball.

This story isn’t really about fitted sheets, yet it’s got EVERYTHING to do with fitted sheets. This is a story of purpose and acceptance for all life has to offer, not just the pursuit of happiness.

Here, we’ll dig into the little teaching moments life gives us daily. We have a choice in our reactions. We can bring purpose to everything we do and create change on our environment, or we can let our environment change us.

It’s time to fold some sheets.

When we chase happiness we ignore the other human emotions

We spend so much time in pursuit of something unobtainable — pure happiness. Like we’ll end up on a mountaintop of nothing but rainbows and cotton candy. We need the gamut of human emotions to feel whole: joy, fear, happy, sad, malaise, trepidation, wonder, nervous, angry, excited, depressed, confused, and others.

We’d go insane if we lived a life of pure happiness all the time.

While there’s nothing wrong with the pursuit of happiness, we’ve got to give ourselves more tools to handle the rest of the emotions, so we don’t fold when life gets hard. Because life always gets hard.

So, I use the folded sheet metaphor, because it’s something I dread. I do my best to fold it, knowing full-well it won’t come out perfect, but I try anyway. Because how we do anything is how we’ll do everything.

There’s a Buddhist saying that goes something like:

If you’re going to sweep, sweep.

This simple phrase is about doing your best at everything you do. We put out attention to the task at hand, being mindful, and avoiding daydreaming and time travel. Here’s a story I wrote about mindfulness:

When we persevere through tasks which may not make us happy (but those we must do anyway), it brings a larger appreciation for the things that do make us happy.

Instead of using happiness for a relief valve against the rest of life, look to happiness as a bonus for a job well done.

We learn to love the process

Once we’ve got all our human needs satisfied we reach the top of Maslow’s pyramid — self-actualization. We need to be fully self-expressed. We need purpose and belief that the work we do matters. I’ll return to the fitted sheet a minute.

We can choose to love the process even when the actual job is something we don’t want to do.

I hate folding fitted sheets as much I hate the mismatched plastic-ware cabinet in my house. I wish fitted sheets folded themselves. Now, I can let the fitted sheet win and choose to be a total grump as I fold the thing, or I can choose to react differently.

As Marcus Aurelius tells us:

What stands in the way becomes the way.

I treat the folding the damn sheet as a stoic exercise, like weightlifting, meditating, or eating well. I re-frame the purpose of the task. I use the fitted sheet to become grateful for its training.

I’m in control of this situation. So, if I can train myself to temper my emotions, when an important situation arises my mind will be better equipped to handle it.

I chose to sweep.

Our life’s purpose — our work that matters most, is baked into everything we do. From the small to the tall. When we seek the joy in the smaller things, the bigger experiences won’t carry the burden of disappointment.

We choose to make us happen to life instead of life happening to us

We’re not of this earth for long. Once we gain the wisdom of adulthood, there’s a small operating window where our bodies match our desires to do the things we want.

We can’t wait for the annual vacation or that final day of retirement and put all of life’s weight on single events.

Not only is that unfair to retirement or vacation, but the event will never live up to our expectations. Instead, we choose to live a life of principles, where every day tasks become tiny victories and opportunities to do our best work.

I wrote about this philosophy here:

Joy, happiness, and self-actualization are baked inside everything if we allow it to come out. The obstacle becomes the path. Chasing true happiness becomes a mythical unicorn.

How miserable would it be so live a life where our self-talk is someday I’ll be happy. I just have to get through today.

We shouldn’t have to get through anything. It’s all LIFE. The happy, sad, glad, and mad. We don’t need to pill it down, we’ve got to accept it, embrace it, and use the hard moments as training sessions.

Perseverance becomes a workout, like running or jumping jacks. Folding the damn fitted sheet becomes a physical meditation. Learn to say THANK YOU to the obstacles for teaching us lessons and helping us grow stronger — more ready for the really hard times.

The fitted sheet is waiting for you. How will you fold it?

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