🌞 Cultivate joyful morning rituals
Start your day in happiness, in kindness
I hope you’ve been having a wonderful day. If you haven’t, it’s possible that the way you started your day is a contributing factor. That’s why I’m exploring morning rituals this week, and their power to influence the rest of your day.
If your morning was bleary and rushed, rather than serene and joyful, you’re not alone. It’s easy to sleepwalk your day off to a bad start. We wake abruptly to the sound of our morning alarm. Then we check our phones to learn what fresh horrors have befallen the world while we slept. After that, it’s time to ruminate about the day ahead and all the tasks we need to accomplish. Followed by groggily preparing ourselves (and possibly others in the household) for the busy day ahead. Throw in a stressful commute and a missed breakfast, and the mood has been set for a wearisome day.
Desperately seeking snooze button
There’s a science to stressful mornings.
Researchers have studied the Cortisol Awakening Response and found that for most people, the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol is highest in the first hour of waking. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress. It helps you stay alert and focused in the morning, but it might also cause you to feel anxious.
Hitting the snooze button won’t help you avoid morning anxiety, unfortunately. Research has shown that users of the snooze button are more likely to report greater levels of stress in the morning.
And then there's what you eat and drink. Caffeine and sugar first thing in the morning can cause increased anxiety. While skipping breakfast leads to low blood sugar – another cause of anxiety symptoms.
Mornings don’t always have to be stressful, though. And you don’t have to be a morning person to start your day with more meaning and intention. Even with the tightest schedule, it’s possible to cultivate a joyful morning ritual that influences the mood and energy of the rest of your day.
The first thing you do in the morning
Firstly – and thankfully – cultivating joyful morning rituals doesn’t require you to get up an hour earlier! Many of us already get up far earlier than we’d like, to undertake caring duties, embark on long commutes, or work anti-social hours. So, while it would be lovely to have 60 minutes to spare each morning, even five minutes will do.
The very first thing you do in the morning should bring you joy, comfort, pleasure, or peace. Even just for five minutes. Maybe you could light a candle and have a cup of tea in bed. You could listen to a poem (each episode of the daily poetry podcast, The Slowdown, is just a few minutes in length). Or you could spend five minutes on a beloved hobby you maintain you have no time for. (Did you know? If you read for just five minutes each morning, you’ll get four or five books read in a year!)
As psychologist Kate Mason puts it, “It's about doing what brings you peace first thing and not putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to have the perfect routine lined up.”
The Power of Ritual
Whatever you choose to do first thing, what you do everyday matters and has the potential to become a powerful experience of reflection, sanctuary, and meaning. That’s the message of The Power of Ritual, by author and scholar Casper ter Kuile. He invites us to deepen our ordinary practices as intentional rituals that nurture connection and wellbeing.
Casper ter Kuile believes that we can transform our everyday delights into rituals by applying intention, attention, and repetition, creating a “sacred foundation for your life:”
”You already have a host of rituals we might call spiritual practices – even if you’d never use that language. Reading, walking, eating, resting, reflecting: these are legitimate and worthy of your attention and care, and they can be the foundation for a life of deep connection.
“Give intention to the cup of tea… Recite a little poem in the shower every morning. Whatever the practice is, [embrace] it as something real and important… to make it meaningful.”
Casper ter Kuile, The Power of Ritual (2020), HarperCollins
Choose your morning ritual
The Power of Ritual recommends cultivating regular rituals across four levels:
Connecting with yourself
Connecting with the people around you
Connecting with the natural world
Connecting with the transcendent (something greater than oneself)
Which of those categories appeals to you for your morning ritual? Below I’ve listed a couple of ideas for each one:
Connect with yourself
Write ‘Morning Pages’ (more detail on this below)
Meditate (I like this 10-Minute Guided Meditation to Start Your Day on Youtube)
Connect with the people around you
“Send a short uplifting text of gratitude or cheer to someone,” suggests psychologist Paula Gill Lopez
Sit down to breakfast together with the people in your household
Connect with the natural world
Go for a sunrise walk
Listen to bird song
Connect with the transcendent
Read a book or poem. “Find a text to treat as sacred,” ter Kuile advises. “You might choose a literary classic, an obscure childhood favourite, or a poem.” (Looking for ‘sacred text’ recommendations? The Mary Oliver poems I’ve quoted in this piece appear in her books Why I Wake Early and A Thousand Mornings. Morning is a recurring theme in Mary Oliver’s beautiful poetry.)
Follow a Buddhist loving-kindness meditation: “The ground of loving-kindness is seeing the basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our world,” says psychologist and Buddhist teacher, Tara Brach.
Ter Kuile points out, “You’ll try out lots of different things that don’t quite vibe or fall away after a couple of tries. That’s absolutely fine. If, after some time, you find one or two things that start to feel consistently like they’re your practices, that’s when you’ve got a winner.”
Morning ritual in focus: The Morning Pages
Many people find ‘Morning Pages’ helps boost their happiness and relieve stress at the start of the day. And it’s one of the practices recommended in The Power of Ritual. The Morning Pages is a writing exercise conceived by author and creative coach Julia Cameron. Famous adherents include Kerry Washington, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mike Birbiglia, and Alicia Keyes.
Julia Cameron recommends journaling three pages (“strictly stream-of-consciousness”) every morning to clear your mind for the day ahead, and connect with your inner wisdom:
“Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye - this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page... Write down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included… The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed-of solutions.”
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way (1992), Macmillan
“The pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self,” explains Cameron. “Anyone who faithfully writes Morning Pages will be led to a connection with a source of wisdom within.”
I’d love to hear if you already practice any of the above morning rituals, or if you’re inspired to adopt a new one. You can comment on this post by tapping the 💬 icon below, or reply by email to email@example.com.