Did you wake up in a good or bad mood today?
According to new research, the average person in the United States gets up on “the wrong side of the bed” 300 days a year.
When asked to elaborate on the reasons for their grumpiness, respondents cited noise, air temperature and even bad dreams.
Welcome to 21st century American affluence.
The “pursuit of happiness” has been a nationally enshrined principle since the very beginning of the Republic. Thomas Jefferson never explained or elaborated on why he included that phrase in the Declaration of Independence, but it’s safe to say that people wanted then what they want now – a pleasing, meaningful, satisfying and enjoyable life.
A lot has transpired between 1776 and 2019, including incredible inventions and nearly unfathomable advances that have exponentially improved the quality of life. Jobs are plentiful, wages are up and excellent health care is now available to all. In so many ways we’re living in a golden age of human development.
Yet, despite a dizzying constellation of good things making life easier, healthier and more prosperous, according to historical surveys, people are on average less happy now than they were back at our nation’s founding.
There are many reasons, but one is a lack of historical perspective. We take so much of today’s wonder for granted. Even the poorest of the poor (except for the homeless) enjoy indoor plumbing and central heat – something considered an absolute luxury only a few generations ago.
The next time you grouchily lumber out of bed on a cold morning, think about your ancestors having to strike a match, light a candle and find their way into the frigid air in search of a drafty wooden outhouse.
Growing up, our old furnace was a source of constant struggle. My dad didn’t battle it with the gusto of Old Man Parker in Jean Shepherd’s classic, "A Christmas Story," but it was regularly on the fritz, and always on the coldest days. I remember my mom sticking her head down the cellar stairs, waiting for the roar to rattle the floorboards. She said the sound of a working furnace gladdened her soul like little else.
In his wonderful book on the history of domestic life, "Home," author Bill Bryson writes that if you add up all the conveniences of modern-day living, from indoor plumbing to electricity and refrigeration, you would have needed over 200 servants in the 1700s to enjoy the same level of comfort we enjoy today without even employing one extra person.
But I think the root of the grumpiness goes deeper than a lack of appreciation for good things.
Faith is still vibrant in many circles and sectors, but there is a disconcerting rise in hopelessness in agnosticism and atheism among people who think “this” is all there is. And frankly, I understand why that void would elicit a bad mood.
Writing in his classic work, "God in the Dock," C.S. Lewis observed, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”
But training for what? Life after death, of course – a bridge too far for some – but critical for those of us wanting to enjoy today despite its trials and tribulations.
So, if you want to regularly wake up in a good mood, I think you need to set your sights on three truisms of life:
Every one of us needs to know that we matter and that our life has meaning beyond the here and now.
We need to love others and be loved by someone, too.
We need to have a “magnificent obsession” that gets us out of bed every morning and excites and compels us to action. We’re never too old or too young to do something important and meaningful.
It’s been said that the happiest people are the people who think the happiest thoughts, and I think that’s true.
What are you reading before you go to bed? What about when you wake up? What are you watching? Who are you thinking about? It’s true we become what we think about all day long.
Happiness has become big business and hundreds of new books are written and published on the subject each year. But it’s good to remember that happiness is fleeting and contingent upon circumstance. Sure we want to be happy – but it’s joy we’re after – contentment that cannot be taken away. “Joy, joy beyond the walls of the world,” as "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote.
When you open your eyes in the morning, first be grateful that you can open your eyes. And then embrace the words of the 17th century Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks who once wrote, “Remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well doing, and Heaven shall make amends for all.”