Happier Mornings for Better Days and Nights

By Radha Marcum, Senior Editor

This isn’t a story about getting more or better sleep—the first step in having a great day. This is about what comes after you wake up. Like many things, a healthy morning routine is a dance. One false step doesn’t make it fall apart. It’s all about developing rhythm.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a few simple steps that make it a happier dance. Here are some ways that I use to make my morning a great springboard for my day.

1.  Take care of you. I can hear you saying, “I know!” but hear me out. What this means is that one of the first things you do every day should be to participate in an activity that gives you energy. Especially if you have kids and/or a job with millions of demands. And who doesn’t?!

Not sure what nourishes you most? Ask yourself: What one easy, healthy, non-work, non-parenting activity offers me the most net energy gain? How can I make that a priority in the morning? Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Do I absolutely love to exercise with a friend or do I need to start by cultivating quiet mental clarity through meditation? Me, I’m a classic introvert. Meditating truly fuels my mental and emotional tank.

“I don’t have time,” I can hear you saying. But it’s truly OK to keep it short. Most of us don’t have unlimited time. Whether it’s exercise or meditation, studies show that even 15–30 minutes can make a big difference.

What I’d like to add: (or, more realistically, rotate in occasionally): Journaling, poetry writing, or reading for pleasure.

2.  Plan nourishment—not just breakfast, but for lunch and dinner too. Familiar with the term decision fatigue? It’s not just in your head. Scientists have discovered that every decision we make during the day slowly depletes our decision-making energy. No wonder that, by the time you get home from work, you’d rather warm up a box of tomato soup than decide between cooking a barbecue-tempeh quinoa bowl or sweet-and-sour chicken with greens.

If you hate to narrow choices (like my kids . . . “I don’t know what I’ll want to eat in three hours!”), then simply limit your eating choices. I know this sounds harsh, but you can actually be more creative once you’ve set some boundaries around basics.

Here’s how: For breakfast, we have three “main” choices—whole-grain cold cereal, hot oatmeal, organic eggs—to which we add flair: spices, dried fruits, seeds, nuts, dairy and nondairy milks, etc. Lunches are similarly structured, though we are also exceptionally lucky to live in an area where school lunches are a good choice, with salad bars, farm-to-table produce, and from-scratch entrées. This cuts the angst of decision making down considerably.

What I’d like to add: Overnight slow-cooked steel-cut oats or other whole grains with antioxidant-rich berries or fall fruits, such as apples or pears.

3.  Acknowledge each other. Wherever you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, there’s no getting around the fact that we humans are social beings. So much so that the strength of our relationships is an accurate predictor of health and longevity. Studies show that strong, healthy social ties are as powerful to our health as quitting smoking!

If you live with others, take time to look each other in the eye. Ask questions about what’s happening for them that day. Say a proper goodbye, with a hug and warm smile—not just screaming, “Have a good day!” from another room when you hear the front door squeak open.

If you live alone, take time to connect with a pet, giving them a little extra love before you part. Or send an e-mail or text to a friend to check in with them, provide a word of encouragement or suggest lunch or coffee.

What I’d like to add: Honestly, I’m still working on this one. So, note to self: Spend less time barking orders and more time talking to my family, taking in the beautiful, changing faces of my kids and husband.

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