If anyone ever offers to grant me three wishes, one of them is definitely going to be “to wake up happy.” But not to worry–this isn’t going to be a self-indulgent whinge about being unhappy. I’m often happy throughout the day. I just don’t wake up happy, and I’m haunted by the idea that some, if not many, many people do. If I knew that most people woke up with a slight feeling of dread, or a sense of being oppressed by their responsibilities, or a lack of conviction that they were really up to the task of what their life would require that day, I wouldn’t worry so much. But my self-torturing fantasy is that other people wake up filled with energy, optimism, and excitement. That they don’t feel like they need to step through some kind of frightening psychological curtain to get to normal, rational emotions like contentment and self-assurance.
The last time I woke up happy was in Philadelphia in 1991; I was in graduate school, and I was napping on an old, turquoise blue Victorian style sofa that had belonged to my college roommate’s grandmother. When I woke up, sometime in the late afternoon, I remember that extraordinary feeling of slowly surfacing into life. That feeling like I had been somewhere else for a while. I watched the movie G.I. Jane this week, and the way they wake up the military trainees is to throw these little grenades into the barracks and then scream really loud. That’s sort of how I feel when I wake up now.
When I described my thoughts about how I should feel when I wake up to my mother, she said, “Do you actually know anyone like that?” I don’t know people like that, but I’ve read about them, and I know they must be out there. So I really, really need to know the answer to this question: Do you wake up happy? If so, what is your secret? Please, please share. I’m not kidding.
The closest description I’ve found to how mornings feel is chapter 19 of Dr. Claire Weekes’ 1969 book, Hope and Help for Your Nerves. It’s a wonderful book for anxious people (or, in her words, people with “nervous illness,” which I love, because it sounds so 1950s housewife-ish). Every page is reassuring, true, and written in this lovely, wacky Australian English. You feel like she would cure you of nervous illness by the sheer force of her will if she could (she makes a lot of emphatic, italicized statements). Also, she advises that nervously ill people be sent away to special places to recover, places that sound a little like spas, which is quite nice.
Chapter 19 is called “That Dreaded Morning Feeling,” because, as she says, “Waking in the morning deserves special attention” since “it is the worst time of day to most people with nervous illness.” Her advice is this: “You must rise as soon as you wake. The longer you lie steeped in misery the harder it will be to pull yourself out of it.” She suggests things like listening to music, having someone to talk to, or changing the position of your bed so that you see a new view once in a while. Then she says, in italics, “A difficult morning need not mean a difficult day.”
This is my most favorite chapter of the whole book because I love phrases like “steeped in misery.” But mostly I love it because it admits that you can, and indeed often will, feel quite unhappy in the mornings, but you can OVERCOME it. I’ve read biochemical reasons for why people can feel worse, mood-wise, in the mornings, but that’s just science, and it can feel unchangeable, which is not helpful. Claire Weekes is helpful because she believes in you: “Admittedly, the first half hour may feel deadly, and it is from this that most people shrink. However, after a while the way becomes easier, helped by the prompt rising. So don’t listen to any excuse you may make yourself to lie a little longer. Leave that bed as soon as you wake.”
So I’ve tried several things to ease my way through that dreaded morning feeling: praying; writing myself notes the night before that say “a difficult morning need not mean a difficult day;” taping inspirational quotes or song lyrics next to my bed; pretending not to be awake; scheduling things for early in the morning so I don’t have time to think about how much I don’t want to get up. They don’t really work.
I’ve only found one thing that works. One single thing. It’s having done at least one worthwhile, useful thing the day before. Preferably more than one, but one is enough. Being able to remind myself that I lived my normal life just yesterday, and I did at least one good and meaningful thing is like a tiny beam of light through that jittery, cloudy morning place–it reminds me that I am me, that I can do real and good things like fold laundry, take my boys out for ice cream, cook dinner, go running, talk to a friend. That I just did it, and so I can do it again. And it will be fine.
I don’t think I’m going to be waking up like happy cartoon boy anytime soon, if ever. I still wish I could. And I also wish I could stop wishing that I could.
I hope you’ll share your own experiences with the mornings. In the meantime, maybe try to listen to Lyle Lovett’s song, “Just the Morning.” It’s a good one: “Whisper to me that you know me/There’s nothing here to be afraid of/It’s just the morning.” I know it’s a song to a lover, but whispering to yourself that you know who you are is pretty sweet too.
An “it’s okay to be alive today” poem: “The Guest House,” by Rumi.
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I can’t say that I wake up happy because I usually start thinking about the things I have to do that I don’t really want to do… like get out of my comfortable bed for starters. But I’ve found something that works for me. I’ve memorized ee cummings poem that starts with the lines “I thank you god for most this amazing day… and I proceed to visualize “the leaping greenly spirits of trees and the blue true dream of sky”. I think his use of language along with the images somehow tricks my brain into believing that getting out of bed and starting my day is a good thing. And it makes me happy to start my day knowing how therapeutic poetry is in my own life. I hope this helps.
Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts. It always makes me smile with anticipation when I open my email and see that you have written something new.
Here’s the whole of that poem for everyone else to read:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Thank you for this–what a wonderful gift!
I am late replying to this because of my unorthodox work hours of late. I resonate with Elaine’s sentiments. I used to think of that cummings poem for years in the morning. For many years, through the darkest of times, I awake and say “Good morning, God (or Goddess)” followed by “thank you.” a picture of the Dailai Lama hangs at the foot of my bed. This cured me of much anxiety although there is still much with which I cope. When I was very young-a student mom in my early twenties, morning’s obligations filled me with dread although as a child and teen and to this day, I am a morning person. I get up like Uwe very early. I read spiritual writings and practice a meditative prayer then exercise. Sometimes I hurry out of bed to have more of this delightful morning ritual. I write in a journal and make a lists of gratitudes from things as simple as socks and cups to the complex story behind the picture of my grandson’s face. I love to putter around in the house afterward. This makes all encounters with everyone throughout the day go better, much better. I deal quite a bit with all sorts of people. Then, the big issue is getting out the door -don’t care for that much at all but once out, I am fine.
I wake up happy because of one word .. Gratitude. I am grateful to have survived the night when many have not. I am grateful for the sunlight that shines in my window. I am grateful that all of my five senses are working, because one day they may not. I am most grateful that I can begin again, a new day to make all new adventures both happy and sad. Thank you! Now lets go!
Thanks for this positive reply. I love your reminder of gratitude (I have a friend who tells herself each morning, “I GET to do this,” as opposed to “I HAVE to do this.”). I especially loved your “Now let’s go!” Indeed!
As always, love it. And…I can relate.
I don’t wake up happy. I wish I did. I spend the first couple of hours each day playing the mental game of “cheer up”. But the first thing I feel when I wake is usually, “oh. this again.” I know that sounds terribly ungrateful. But it’s honest. I am grateful for so much, but it takes me being mixed into life again to really get in touch with it.
I sure wish I had an answer to this, but I don’t. The best I can do is kinda just go with it. Accept it.
Thank you Leslie.
Thanks for writing. I know exactly what you mean–“this again.” But I love how you wrote “being mixed into life again” as what helps you get in touch with being grateful. I feel the same way–usually when I finally allow myself to get mixed into life, I am way, way better off. Also, your comment reminded me of the Toothpaste For Dinner comic from this post: “Wake up early! Don’t you want to be sleepy and alone for the first couple of hours of the day?” I love that.
Thanks, as always, for being here. I will certainly check out your blog for descriptions of mornings. I hope to get to the point some day of being able to say that I love the sunrise!
Every morning, I open my eyes, silently curse, then do the only thing that helps. I yell out, “If anyone expects me to get up, I’ll need a kiss from a handsome prince!” This usually brings my 7-year-old running with a bunch of cereal in his mouth to deliver some sloppy wet kisses. Sometimes my husband comes with an encouraging hug and kiss. Rarely my 10-year-old, but – man- is that one worth it when he does summon up the energy. I’ll keep doing this until it just doesn’t work any longer. Then I’ll have to do 5 sets of Sun Salutations or something god-awful like that.
I know you’re in a home of princes, Leslie. Take advantage of being the Queen 😉
I am TOTALLY going to try this, Barbara! I love it! I think at least my 4 year old and my husband would go for it. The other two–not so much. Yesterday, my 12-year old said, “Did you notice that the ‘Because I’m the Mom, That’s Why’ magnet” is gone from the refrigerator? I hated that magnet.” I could not believe it. So obnoxious.
Thanks for writing! 🙂
You should get/make a new magnet to replace it that simply says: WOW. (But when you turn it around, of course, it says MOM.)
For me it’s relatively simple to find an easy way from sleeping to waking up:
I stand up twice as much earlier as I had to. So there is plenty of time left to come into the day smoothly and without any trouble in the beginning.
I hope you will find your own ways!
This post made me so happy… beginning with a line from Lyle Lovett, my favorite. I’ve listened to that song so many times. The images you added were perfect!! And now to boot, I have a new e.e. cummings poem to savor. Bravo!
I love being a part of the morning, but it requires considerable effort for me, many steps. I don’t mind the initial waking up, but I have a rough time with the sitting, standing, moving, finding all my senses, and becoming truly a part of the day. On days when I have time (luxury) to do this process at my own pace, it’s easier. On days when it’s cold and drafty in my house (winter), it feels nearly impossible (…and retreating back to the warmth of my bed is inevitable). What is interesting to me is that I don’t have much feeling of gratitude or dread, anticipation or disappointment… I’m not awake enough to have that when I’m in “the tunnel” between asleep and awake. 🙂
An exception to all of this is in summer when I go to the beach with my parents and sister Jane. I pop out of bed with ease at 5 or 6am, greet the sun over the water, make coffee, plan meals, read, inhale deeply, and feel so at peace. No tunnel. It’s amazing.