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What gets you out of bed in the morning? How to ramp up your happiness quotient

November 10, 2017 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Some of us are morning people. We jump out of bed eager to begin our day. Rise and shine. Others moan and groan and are grouchy until they have their first--or second--cup of coffee. Regardless of our wake up mood du jour, each of us needs a good reason to get up and get going come a new day.   

Many of the people we’ve interviewed over the years who feel productive and positive about their lives say they wake up happy and hopeful. They can’t wait to get up and get started. What is the common denominator? In most cases, they are doing exactly what they want professionally and personally. The work and psychic rewards are more than the paycheck. It’s their passion. Here are some examples of what we’ve heard: 

Musician: I love to perform and to create music to enrich others’ lives.  

Server: I feel good when I please my customers and make them feel like they are guests in my “home.” 

Master carpenter: I get great joy building something out of nothing. 

Therapist:  Work is exciting for me when, for example, I work with a child who is struggling and that child is able to start to see positive options in her life. 

Doctor: I enjoy diagnosing. And once I find out the cause of someone’s pain or distress, I get great pleasure from helping them heal. 

Attorney: It’s heady when I’m in court and make an air tight case for a client. I love doing the research; digging into the details. 

Volunteer teacher assistant: Many of the kids I work with are underserved. Their home lives are shaky. I build up trust and then show them consistency—I am always there for them when I say I’ll be there. 

Hair stylist: I love finding a cut and color that works and flatters the person and makes them feel great. 

Having a positive attitude about yourself, work and life in general can make you live longer, and boost the immune system, wrote Jane Brody in a New York Times piece (March 28, 2017). “A good outlook is linked to lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better weight control and healthier blood sugar levels.”  

In another New York Times piece, “The Happy Factor: Practicing the art of well-being,” by Julie Scelfo (April 5, 2017), she quotes author, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and pioneer in the field of positive psychology Martin E.P. Seligman. Scelfo writes: “Dr. Seligman believes the most effective long term strategy for happiness is to actively cultivate well being.” This is something we each can do and can control. In his book: “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being,” he cites four components of well being and offers four exercises to develop it. For a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/education/edlife/get-happy-four-well-being-workouts.html?_r=0

Life is like a big ball of yarn that keeps unraveling with its ups and downs.  We know this all too well. Most mornings, we both are excited to get up and get working--or playing. We have so much to be grateful for including our children and grandchildren, friends and extended family, our homes; our neighborhoods, our loves and our likes, and our writing work. 

It wasn’t always so after we each lost a spouse, one to death six years ago after 42 years of marriage, and one to divorce after 31 years, resulting in days, weeks, and months of barely being able to get out of bed. When we awoke, our first thoughts were about our losses. We were so sad. We’d drag ourselves to get dressed and do what had to be done that day anxious for night to come so we could climb back into bed. The reality of having to care for three 90-something parents and five children between us shook us back to reality. 

It took a lot of work and time for us to turn hopelessness into joy but today we both have rich and fulfilling lives. All this is spelled out in our most recent book, Suddenly Single After 50 and this weekly blog. When we’re working on one of our books or a juicy story, we jump out of bed, our heads full of ideas that we can’t wait to get down on paper or type into our computers. Every day is different depending on who we’re interviewing and what we’re writing. Even when we struggle with ledes and paragraph transitions we feel a sense of adrenalin rush to make the article better. But it’s also more than this. 

For Margaret, it’s simple pleasures mostly that excite and inspire. Taking long walks for exercise with alone time to think. Listening to classical music and opera. Nibbling on very good chocolate or quaffing good wine. Growing vegetables and herbs on her screened in porch,  performances of good theater, reading novels that make her laugh and think—today’s writers such as Ann Patchett, George Saunders or Zadie Smith or such classics as Dickens or Austin. Tasting good food and buying great shoes are among her other guilty pleasures. And she’s learned to fine tune her cooking skills melding new flavors or baking one of Dorie Greenspan’s cookie recipes in a highly touted new cookbook. Above all, she relishes good conversations with her three kids, her siblings, and good friends and loves volunteering for young people who run and hug her when she enters the room. 

For Barbara it’s the challenge of new work, new editors, new ideas coming together. She also loves her volunteer work for her college, finding a new cookbook and trying a recipe, staying in touch daily with her elderly mom and daughters and Face Timing with her older grandson. It's also calm, interesting conversations with her beau and binge watching a favorite series such as Damages which they recently did, keeping up with her friends who live in cities where she's lived or visited, working on her garden which this year will include only perennials and no vegetables or fruits, and now even seeing improvement each morning with her broken hand and its mobility, as well as less pain. 

Here are other simple ways to feel productive and give you a reason to look forward to each day:  

  1. Projects – scrapbooking, arranging photos or taking photos, hiking and exploring;
  2. Writing a blog on a topic where you’re an expert of sorts and then doing so on a regular basis;
  3. Volunteering with kids, the elderly, at your library, or your college;
  4. Spending a happy hour with girlfriends schmoozing and gossiping;
  5. Attending a Friday morning coffee concert or Friday evening at temple or church or a community lecture or book talk;
  6. Taking out an aging parent or elderly friend or relative and spending quality time with them, asking them to tell stories of their past and taping their conversation;
  7. Finding someone to date if single, going on the date, and if in a relationship, just snuggling before a fire on a cold night or watching a good movie on T.V.;
  8. Getting a new hairdo, dress, nails polished a pretty summer color;
  9. Planning and taking a trip, with the planning part more than half the fun;
  10. Preparing for a family holiday and gathering everyone around the table with a new menu, place cards and maybe some after dinner games;
  11. Setting an elegant table with flowers, good china and sterling or going the paper plate fun route indoors or outdoors ;
  12. Self improvement through yoga or meditation;
  13. Asking a friend what they would like to do and being totally open;
  14. Joining a book or theater club and trying it at least three times;
  15. Signing up for singing lessons or learning how to play an instrument or brushing up old skills on an instrument such as a piano;
  16. Going back to an old favorite past-time such as painting or bridge;
  17. Getting involved in a sport—basketball, softball, volleyball or tennis or even table tennis or badminton;
  18. Being more grateful for all we have, even taking 15 minutes a day to think gratitude;
  19. Being absolutely positive about what lies ahead, even if it's something we dread (such as a blind date) since it's just one event and may pass fast;
  20. Doing nothing without guilt. Setting goals makes us feel good but sometimes nothing is not nothing. It can be uplifting and regenerating--sleeping late, exercising when we feel like it, and visiting with an old friend either on the phone or in person. 

We could go on and on. No matter where our days take us, we try to live in the moment and to stay sanguine about what each day may bring. 




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