Does this remind you of yourself in the morning?
My mornings are characterised by psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief.
The first is Denial, which entails pressing the sleep button when the alarm goes off. Five minutes later it’s buzzing again, so I proceed to Anger. This is followed by Bargaining, during which I attempt to calculate how many more minutes I can stay in bed without being late. The stage of Depression hits as soon as I realise that – shit – now I’m late. And finally, when I get to work, I reach Acceptance.
I’m not alone. Earlier this week, I conducted a (totally unscientific) social experiment. With a clipboard in hand, I sat on trains during peak hour and noted the number of people who looked happy, those who appeared sad, and those who were neutral. Of the 240 commuters I observed, only 15 per cent seemed pleased to be there. The rest were either sad (39 per cent) or neutral (46 per cent).
But here’s the thing. I tried to make subtle contact with 40 of those people. A small smile here; a nod of the head there; even an occasional ‘how are you’. And yet there was almost nothing in return. Thirty-one of those 40 commuters either ignored my gestures or served back something half-hearted and insincere. I don’t blame them. I would have responded with the same derision.
One possible explanation can be attributed to our circadian rhythms, which dictate our energy – both physical and mental – throughout the day.
The traditional nine-to-five workday suits the morning people perfectly. These are the ones who are bursting with cheer, greeting their colleagues with a big wide smile and a melodic “Good Morning!” The afternoon or evening people, on the other hand, are more inclined to view it as Good Mourning, unable to function until at least after lunch.
That’s why some organisations allow employees to select their own hours of work. They acknowledge that greater productivity can be derived from matching work schedules with employees’ circadian rhythms. The mood we’re in when we arrive at work can affect our performance all day.
Of course, there are other causes, too. Some of that morning grumpiness can be due to the apoplexy people experience when using public transport. For others, it has more to do with an argument they had with their partner, a night of insomnia, car trouble, an uninspiring job, bad weather … or countless other reasons.
Dr Lisa Williams is a psychology lecturer at the University of NSW. She tells me that a “substantial amount of research from social psychology has shown that emotional states and moods do, indeed, influence our thoughts and actions, even when those states arise from something that happened earlier in the day”.
“For instance, happiness from a pleasant breakfast with friends can lead us to have a more optimistic outlook for the rest of the day, view the things we come across as more pleasant, and engage in behaviours that are likely to continue making us happy," she says.
"Likewise, getting angry during a traffic dispute in the morning can lead us to be more critical of the things we come across, make us take more risks, and lead others to treat us in a negative way.”
As the cliché suggests, we need to turn that frown upside down. In a survey of bad moods conducted in the UK a couple of months ago, nearly half the 2000 respondents said they snap out of their irritability as soon as they have their first coffee or tea. Other popular responses for getting over it included taking a shower, spending time in the sun, and sticking to a routine.
In the fabulous kids’ book by Moritz Petz, The Bad Mood, a badger called Badger wakes up feeling cranky. What’s the point of being like this, he reasons, if no one notices? So he starts talking rudely to each of his friends, passing the moodiness on until they're all feeling just as dreadful, wanting nothing more to do with him.
The trouble is that, at work, some people can be just like Badger.
Are you a morning person? If not, how do you deal with it? Leave a comment.
Follow James Adonis on Twitter @jamesadonis