Mornings can be rough for many people who tend to feel sleepy pretty regularly, which in turn makes them report feeling irritable a lot of the time. And yes, it’s hard to feel cheery when you’re overtired and stressed — much of which, alas, is outside of people’s control.
But happiness experts say there are simple habits people can practice in the morning that will that have a profound influence on how they feel throughout the day. They’re easy tweaks that can help improve overall mental well-being.
Ready to take stock of your general day-to-day happiness and incorporate some new practices that can improve your mood all day long? Here are five strategies to consider:
1. Pick a wellness habit, then link it to an a.m. ritual you already have.
This first tip is pretty broad, and that’s on purpose. Because the truth is there are many evidence-backed strategies people can use to try to boost happiness.
So you might take some time to cultivate awareness through meditation. (One simple strategy: Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.) Or you might be intrigued by the research that shows incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help boost happiness. Maybe you’d like to spend a few seconds every morning simply focusing on whatever nature you see outside your window, whether it’s the grass in your yard or the sky over the city.
There really are so many different wellness habits that can help you, according to psychiatrist Murray Zucker, chief medical officer of the health care platform Happify. The key is simply to start with one — whatever it is— then attach it to a routine that you already have. You’re linking habit to ritual, he explained.
So maybe every morning you get up, go to the bathroom, then make your bed. Link a moment in that routine (say, the bed making) to the habit you want to cultivate (maybe it’s reading 10 pages in a book). By tacking it on to something you already do, you’re much more likely to actually stick with it. And consistency really is the key to boosting happiness over time, Zucker said.
“Start slow and build gradually,” he added. He encourages people to really just start with one new habit you want to link to your existing routine, then go from there.
2. Get your phone out of your room.
“Do not have your screen in your room,” said Allison Task, a career and life coach who said that she insists on this as a non-negotiable with her clients. That’s because when you reach for your phone (or tablet, or computer, or click on the TV) first thing in the morning, you’re really inviting the outside world to dictate your mood first thing, she said.
And there really is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that screens hamper happiness. Studies have linked frequent social media use to decreased mood over time; other research has shown that a high volume of emails is connected with overall feelings of unhappiness.
Furthermore, screens can get in the way of sleep, which is deeply connected to people’s overall sense of well-being.
“Sleep is just a game changer,” Task said. You might not be able to control what time your toddler shuffles into your room in the morning or what time your alarm starts to blare, but you can at least try to protect your sleeping hours by keeping screens out of your room.
3. Talk to yourself...
Zucker noted that people tend to spend a lot of time talking to themselves in their own heads, particularly in the morning when feeling frazzled or stressed about what’s to come. He is a big fan of noticing self-talk and self-correcting using this simple technique: say your name.
“If you use your own name in your self-talk, you’re more likely to follow cognitive advice,” Zucker explained.
If, for example, you have a big presentation at work and you notice that you’re spending the morning psyching yourself out, telling yourself that you’re going to flop, you really can make yourself pretty nervous, Zucker said.
“But if I say: ‘Murray. You’ve done this before. You like doing this,’” you really can take some control over your own thoughts, which can set you up for greater happiness throughout the day.
“Just using your own name can be very helpful,” Zucker said.
4. ... and somebody else.
“Make a social contact with somebody you have positive regard for,” Zucker said. This could really be anyone — a spouse or child, a friend, an extended family member.
What that “social contact” looks like really depends on your personality and your schedule. “For someone who is busy, it may be a phone call or a text. If you have more time, meeting someone for a cup of coffee to start your day is really a boost,” Zucker said.
But research suggests that even if you don’t actually meet up with someone or send them an email or text, it can be enough to simply send good thoughts their way. “You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Cortland Dahl, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, previously told HuffPost. Just bring a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.
5. Incorporate gratitude.
While it’s true that there is a huge range of habits that can help boost happiness in the morning, researchers and clinicians tend to return to one again and again because it’s so powerful: gratitude.
In research trials, people who journaled about the things they’re thankful for during the week scored much higher on measures of happiness than people who instead noted things they’d been irritated by. And a daily gratitude practice may even contribute to improved physical health — which, in turn, contributes to overall feelings of happiness.
There are many different ways to work gratitude into your morning routines, but it can (and should!) be simple.
“Many religions do a morning prayer,” said Task, who added that spending a moment doing something similar — whether you’re religious or not — can be a doable morning habit to cultivate.
“Take that pause to appreciate that you’re alive, whatever that means to you,” she urged. Say to yourself: “I’m so glad I’m alive, and I get to play with my 2-year-old daughter,” Task offered by way of example. Or that you get to go to work. Or you get to walk your dog. Or even that you get to hit the snooze button again — yes, even if experts generally say it’s not a great idea.
Just find some way to express some gratitude in the morning, because it truly can be enough to put you in a better frame of mind all day.