The central premise and theme of Happy School is that you are not the victim of your emotions, but the producer of them. You produce your emotions by your thoughts (and of course, you’ve learned the miraculous, life-changing truths that you can insert good thoughts as well as quarantine negative thoughts, merely by thinking another thought). In this week’s lesson, we are going to intentionally focus on inserting good thoughts into your brain as the first thing you do when you wake up. You have so much power over the thoughts in your mind, and thus, you have power over your emotions. Take responsibility for your thinking and this will solve the problem of your negative emotions.
Beginning—as well as continuing—the ritual of a Morning Happiness Routine (MHR) as well as a Quiet Time, takes a huge amount of discipline. But the benefits are outstanding and quite worth the effort.
Begin the Night Before
For centuries, generations have known the wisdom of preparing for the next day the night before. This is actually the way God measures days, starting with the evening. “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:5). If you wake up and have no idea what you’re doing or just fall into your day and thus begin scrambling, you will waste time and energy. Preparation is such a key secret in life. Pre-think. Pre-plan. Prepare.
So, the night before, maybe when you’re lying in bed or right before you go to sleep, write out tomorrow’s schedule. Look at your calendar and put in your anchors for the day’s schedule, such as appointments and things you have to do. In addition, put in your exercise, your food prep, actions in which you love and give to your MIPs (Most Important People), your time to study, steps to take to work toward your goals, etc. You will not make time for many of these important activities if they are not written into your schedule.
You may also want to schedule an activity that you enjoy so you’re not always just grinding off to-do lists. (Take responsibility for enjoying your life as no one is coming on a white horse to do this for you. No one.)
Place all of your activities in your schedule as if they were appointments. For example, at 12:30 every day I try to take a 20-25 minute walk. Often I don’t feel like stopping what I’m doing to walk, but when I see it on the schedule, I remember that I’ve already decided how important walking is to fight inflammation, detox, improve mood, increase longevity, etc. (See Day 5B this week for more on walking.)
Think about when you are going to do your responsibilities, such as your online grocery shopping. When are you going to call and schedule needed technicians? Put it on your calendar. Maybe you are having company over this weekend so you have to get organized a day or two in advance with menus, recipes, grocery shopping, etc. You can save much time, energy, and stress when you pre-plan. Do not neglect this powerful life enhancer.
If you work outside the home, don’t waste your lunch hour. Be sure you pack a healthy lunch to eat—preferably the night before—and then bring shoes so you can take a walk. Be exceedingly intentional by planning well.
It’s also extremely helpful to pack children’s lunches, to plan what you’re going to wear, to plan your family’s food for dinner, etc. the night before. Save the precious early morning hours for your Morning Happiness Routine, your time with God, and exercise.
This new ritual of planning your day the night before will completely change your early morning. And by changing the early morning, you will change the day. It’s possible you are wasting large slots of time and energy by not being prepped and planned.
To plan the next day, you can use an app on your phone or on your computer but researchers are now saying that there is something special about an old-fashioned handwritten list because it is written in your own handwriting. Somehow seeing your own handwriting is motivating. Just be sure and get it down digitally or on paper instead of merely in your mind.
I know this next piece of advice doesn’t work for everyone, but try to go to bed earlier. Some of you have new babies, teens, and other situations that make this impossible, but the hours you sleep before midnight count more. You need sleep, and no one can easily get up to have a MHR and a Quiet Time if they are sleep-deprived.
What to Do If You Have Trouble Sleeping in the Middle of the Night
You already know that getting a good night’s sleep is very important. In yesterday’s article, we talked about going to bed early and being prepped and planned for the day. Today I want to talk about what to do if you wake in the middle of the night.
There is so much you can do to help your sleep and I’m sure you’ve read a lot on this if you have trouble. (HERE is a great article on sleep by Dr. Joseph Mercola, one of my favorite health gurus.) Taking a bath with Epsom salts and reading something (that’s not too exciting) in bed before one goes to sleep seems to calm the mind and helps many get to sleep.
What I want to focus on in today’s article, though, is what to do when you wake up in the middle of the night. In previous years I dealt with this a lot!
Fifteen years ago when I was having trouble with middle of the night wake ups, I would occasionally have minor panic attacks. Have you noticed that issues loom larger in the middle of the night? Around this time, I found that if I read one of the children’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip books, it would calm my mind. I didn’t understand this then, but I was merely Moving into Another Room, and therefore, not thinking about my WMDs.
When you wake up in the middle of the night, what you want to think about is something completely bland, like counting backwards. It is so boring, but that’s the point. When your mind is occupied with thinking about something very boring, it is in the best situation in the world for getting to sleep. (Remember those large, boring lecture classes in college?)
Even if your mind is racing, be disciplined and start visualizing counting numbers backwards. Visualize each number separately, like it’s on a descending stairwell. (Click HERE and scroll down to Day 5 for more on this.) I start at 100 and visualize each individual step. My mind wanders and I pull it back to counting steps. It then wanders again and I repeat. I warn you, it is not easy to keep your mind focused on the stairs (or on counting sheep if you prefer). Keep bringing your mind back to the counting. You’ll notice you can’t remember where you were in your counting and that’s good, because your mind is now trying to go to sleep. Maybe you’ll think crazy thoughts, and that’s good too, because that means you’re beginning to dream. Keep counting backwards. Don’t give up. Be a drill sergeant on making your mind think only about counting (stairs, sheep, or something innocuous). If you get to zero, start again.
Meditating on Scripture seems to work for me, too.
Maybe you need to go to the bathroom and get a drink of water. Sure, go ahead, but don’t turn on the light and continue to think about counting backwards even while you’re doing this. Don’t let your mind start thinking other thoughts. Control your thoughts. For heaven’s sake, don’t turn on the TV and don’t start reading your phone. Keep focusing on visualizing numbers and counting backwards. It keeps you from thinking interesting thoughts (that will keep you up). It’s your mind that is keeping you up and you can control it (although I admit, it’s harder during the night).
Your mind will resist this activity because as I said, it’s so boring. But this is how you get your mind in a relaxed state where you can fall asleep again.
Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I feel surprisingly awake. I think, “Oh, dear. It’s only 1 o’clock. This is going to take a lot of work to focus on visualizing numbers and counting backwards. I would rather think other more interesting thoughts.” You will need to muster all of your discipline to not think other thoughts, and to merely count backwards. Make a decision to do this before nighttime, when you have your Best Sane Higher Self working. Controlling your mind enables your body to relax and to go back to sleep.
There are many tips for getting a good night’s sleep, but an important one is to be sure and exercise during the day (walking is discussed in Day 5, Part B). A minimum of 8000 steps is needed. Consider buying a $20 stepper on Amazon and let it count your steps. Don’t see walking as exercise but see it as a way to reduce inflammation, detox your body, help you sleep, etc.
A lot of people prefer a noise machine to help them sleep. Noise machines can be inexpensive and can keep you from hearing your husband snore. And of course, you know all the problems associated with caffeine, which can keep you up (even chocolate keeps me up).
Alcohol is notorious for disrupting sleep patterns. If you drink, be sure you do not drink more than 5 ounces a day of wine. Alcohol is an attractively-packaged and well-marketed poison. Be ultra-savvy about your alcohol intake. (Alcohol bites a lot of Christian women. If you drink more than 5 ounces a day, you might have a problem that needs to be addressed and it’s possibly best if you quit completely.)
Do what you need to do to have a good night’s sleep. It is important for your daily energy and mood.
A MHR is a Dynamic Ritual for Improving Your Mood
You planned your day the night before (Day 1) and you’ve had a good night of sleep (Day 2). Now we’re finally ready to talk about your Morning Happiness Routine. Set your alarm so you can get up and have (optimally) at least 30 minutes to yourself. (Any time is better than none.)
In 2018 at the prestigious Master’s Golf Tournament, Tiger Woods completed his remarkable comeback to the top of professional golf. Prior to this tournament, Tiger had had a couple back surgeries. The media reported that Tiger rose at 3 AM on the last day of the tournament to start his rituals and routines to get his back ready to play his best golf. Look what kind of special effort Tiger took because he knew he had a handicap, his bad back. The point is, you currently have a handicap with your negative thoughts and emotions, so you have to do things that maybe other people don’t have to do. Don’t bemoan the work of a Morning Happiness Routine. It will take you where you want to go.
Maybe in the early morning you feel like the psalmist in Psalm 88:3 when he says, “I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death.” Honestly, I have felt that way many mornings in the past. My neural grooves were programmed very deeply. It takes a concerted effort to learn to think a new way.
I want to warn you that when you first wake up and are still somewhat groggy, these recommendations will take a huge and focused effort. I still work hard to get my mind right in the morning. Last week, my grandson was getting ready to have a birthday party so therefore, early one morning, I began thinking about birthday parties. The memory returned to me of my own 9-year-old skating birthday party. At that time, skating parties had a Special Skate where the birthday girl skated around by herself and picked a little boy to skate with. (It’s a ridiculous thing to do to nine-year-olds but nevertheless, this is what they did.) The little boy that I was going to pick, Mark, was absent from school on the day of my party. He came to school at the end of the day and although he looked very normal, he told me he was sick and he just came to get his assignments. I can still see this scenario vividly in my mind.
Although that skating party was over 50 years ago, I began to have thoughts that I’d never considered before. One thought was about Mark‘s mother, as she was a very social and important lady in our small community. I wondered—even though it’s now 50 years later—if maybe Mark’s mother let Mark stay home from school that day so he wouldn’t have to go to my party because maybe she didn’t think my family was up to her high social ranking.
I hope you caught this. Do you see what I was doing?! I’m barely awake and I’m thinking about what the mother of a nine-year-old possibly thought 50 years ago! Do you see what neural grooves we have to overcome? Of course I realized at this point what I was doing in my mind and played some major Hot Potatoes and immediately moved into my Gratefulness Practice (which we are getting ready to discuss). I simply want you to know that you will mess up and you will think about your WMDs or past failures or regrets or What-Could-Have-Been’s. When you realize what Parade is Marching, take your mind and Move into Another Room. The best Room in my opinion in the early morning is your Gratefulness Room.
Usually, I try to start my Gratefulness Practice while I’m still in bed, after I shut off my alarm. (Remember, you’re trying to form a new habit and new rituals take much practice to cement, so don’t beat yourself up if you fail. This is a five year program so just try again.) As soon as you acquire consciousness, start listing things you’re grateful for. It’s the first thing I do every morning before those awful WMDs get a chance to push their scraggly selves into my mind. “Thank you, God, that I can see. Thank you for the safety of my grandchildren. Thank you that I can walk. Thank you that we live in a free country. Thank you for my sweet husband. Thank you for my adult children.” And I list around 10-15 things I’m grateful for. Then there’s mercies to go through, such as, “Thank You that You protected my grandson from falling into the lake. Thank you there are no riots in my neighborhood. Thank you that there is currently no serious disease in our family…” And so on. What you are doing is inserting powerful thought that pulls your emotions in a positive direction. What a difference this is from letting your WMDs walk into the Living Room of your mind and sit down (that’s what I used to do).
Now you’ve gone through some gratefulness items and some mercies, get your coffee and go to where you have your Quiet Time. I want to warn you that your phone is your biggest temptation and distraction in the morning. There’s a huge temptation to check your email, to see how many people liked your Instagram post, etc. Recently, before my MHR, I broke my rule and checked the news feed on my phone. There was an article by BuzzFeed entitled, “32 Things That Will Make Your Home Feel Like a Restaurant.” Can you believe I fell for that? I wasted many of my precious few minutes set aside for this important morning routine before I got control of myself. You’ve got to discipline yourself to say no to all of these temptations and distractions because you too probably only have 30 to 45 minutes to have your MHR and your Quiet Time.
In today’s article, we will discuss specific information concerning your MHR and tomorrow, we will discuss your time with the Lord.
As I said, we are intentionally inserting positive thought into your brain. Remember the Genie’s example when he discussed the MHR analogy of adding logs to the basement stove to heat up the house? Here are several different lists that I have in my journal, ready to read:
- Gratefulness and mercies lists. “He who sacrifices thank offering honors Me…” (Ps. 20:14).
- Who do I need to be here for? (My MIPs—Most Important People).
- If God answered all of my prayers, what would it look like? (Actually, this is merely listing how you want God to work regarding your WMDs.)
- Things I’m looking forward to and am excited about. (What sparks joy? What do I love and enjoy doing?)
- Important prayers God has answered in the past. “When I called, you answered me” (Ps. 138:3).
- What do I have to contribute? “Fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). (Also, consider your Genius Zone.)
- What is my Purpose, Calling, and Top Four Life Goals?
- List of sweet or noteworthy things people I care about have said to me. (This is a list of things that people have said to me that delighted me. Mostly, they are things that my husband, children, and grandchildren have said.)
Now is a good time to write down any WMDs that are bothering you this morning. We are getting them out of your mind and onto paper right now. We will work on your WMDs during your Quiet Time (which will be discussed in tomorrow’s article).
You don’t have to read each of the above lists every morning, but have your lists handy and bathe your mind with some of these thoughts. These positive and life-affirming thoughts will pull your emotions in a fabulous direction. It’s amazing to me how these lists can lift you right out of a slimy slump. Your funk and bad mood stem from your thoughts. (Of course, if you did not sleep, have sickness, disease, or pain, this will profoundly affect your mood as well. Address those issues with gusto!)
Tomorrow we will discuss the all-important, all-powerful, paramount Quiet Time!
The Life-Changing Quiet Time
Listen to what Proverbs 8:10-11 says: “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” Did you hear that? Nothing you desire can compare with Wisdom. Have your first priority in life be to seek God’s face.
Here’s another powerful passage and promise in Scripture, Proverbs 8:34-35. It says, “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord.”
How can you beat that? You find life and receive favor from the Lord if you listen to Wisdom, watching daily at His doorway. Unbeatable!
Hebrews 11:6b says, “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” God wants us to seek Him and He rewards us for it. That is such good news to know!
I have this sentence written in bold in my journal: “You decide if it’s a priority to seek God every morning.” I decide. And you decide. It’s a huge effort to carve out time in the early morning but, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet. And a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119: 105) How could I not make it a priority to hear from the Creator? The One who knows the future? Who has all power? Who controls the heavens and earth?
That’s the purpose of a Quiet Time, to seek the Lord’s face, to hear from Him, to wash your mind with His Word. This changes your life like nothing else. Nothing you can do is more valuable than watching daily at His doors.
I know you are battling thinking about your WMDs every morning, so let’s discuss that. Write down all of your WMDs as they come to mind. In Happy School, we call this exercise Penning Up the Farmyard Animals. As you now know, you think about the same four to five WMDs every morning. In this exercise, list your WMDs on the left side of the page then, as you go through your morning Bible study, look for promises from the Scripture that the Holy Spirit tells you are for you. As you write down what He tells you, hand your burden over to the Lord. He is a promise maker and a promise keeper.
One method of Bible study that always seems to be healing for me is to start the day by going through the Psalm that matches the day of the month. For example, if it’s November 6, then I read Psalm 6. Then I add 30 so I also read Psalm 36. Then I add 30 more, and read Psalm 66. I do this two more times and read Psalm 96 and Psalm 126. I also read through the Proverb of the day, which in this case, would be Proverbs 6. You will be flabbergasted at how much God has to say to you. This is how you renew your mind, by soaking in what God says in His Word. Reframe, replace, and refute your WMDs with God’s thoughts. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:9)
After you get God’s comments, recommendations, and promises about your burdens, then quarantine your WMDs to only one of three times you are allowed to think about them. In addition, quarantine your Failure Movies, your self-pity, your regret, and your list of What- Could-Have-Been.
Here is a random collection of some of the verses I have written down across from my list of WMDs in my journal during my Quiet Time in the last couple of weeks. I record verses that I feel are especially for me every morning. Read and know that this is your God that is speaking over you:
“Who turned the hard rock into springs of water” (Ps. 114:8).
“You have freed me from my chains” (Ps. 116: 16).
“Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name” (Ps. 119:132).
“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11).
“Answer me O LORD out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me” (Ps. 69:16).
“The waters stood above the mountains, but at Your rebuke the waters fled” (Ps. 104:6-7).
“The mountains melt like wax before the Lord” (Ps. 97:5).
“For surely, O LORD, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favor as with a shield” (Ps. 5:12).
“The unfolding of Your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130).
Find your own words that the Lord specifically gives to you and let them bathe your mind. Reframe, refute, and replace your WMDs with God’s Word.
Just FYI, in addition to doing the Psalms and a Proverb each morning, I read or listen to another portion of Scripture. I’m always changing what I’m doing, but currently, I am using the Through The Word (https://throughtheword.org/app.) While I walk, I listen to this great Bible study.
Now it’s time for you to start your day. Watch the Parade that Walks across Your Mind. Remember, you can control what you think about.
The Immense Value of an Early Morning Walk
In an article entitled, “The 10 Top Benefits of Exercise” at Healthline.com, the first benefit was, “It Can Make You Feel Happier.”
According to this article (and thousands of others like it), exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. This article stated that “the effects of exercise on mood are so powerful that choosing to exercise (or not) even makes a difference over short periods.”
Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how intense your workout is. It seems that your mood can benefit from exercise no matter the intensity. That’s why I recommend walking at a pace that you’re comfortable with. You don’t have to run, race walk, or even briskly walk. Just cover the course. Learn to enjoy the walk versus seeing it as exercise. Today I walked in cold rain (I have waterproof gear) and had great joy listening to the rain beat down on the trees nearby. The fresh air and nature sounds are restoring, too. (And hey, the vitamin D you get in the sunlight is remarkably important to your immunity and health.)
There are few things you can do to improve your overall health more than consistently taking a walk. If you’d like, pair your walk with good music, listen to a stimulating podcast, walk with a loved one or close friend, or as I said, simply listen to nature and pray.
I look at my morning walk as a marvelous health strategy in addition to being a powerful mood booster. Our two grandsons spent the weekend with us last weekend and we had them outside at 8 AM in 40° weather in our neighborhood. This is actually a picture of my husband and me on that walk with the Honey Bunnies. I remember walking into the house after that walk, feeling so good that I went to all that trouble (bundling them up) to get our morning walk in. The power of walking on your mood cannot be overstated.
A lovely woman I know told me this morning that she was not motivated to walk. Here’s the text message I sent to her, “I walk 25 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes in the afternoon. I walk in the rain, snow, and 20° temperatures. I’ve spent some money on very warm clothes, gloves, thick wooly headbands, weatherproof gear, and hats. Nothing (well almost nothing) keeps me from my walk. The mindset is that you do this eight days a week. No exceptions—if at all possible. A very good tool to buy is a step counter, which is about $20 on Amazon. Aim for 8,000 to 10,000 steps a
Then I texted more, “Don’t think of walking as exercise. Think of it as lowering inflammation, detoxing your cells, improving your immunity, increasing your longevity, and improving your mood. Put walking in your schedule just like brushing your teeth. Walking loosens up your joints, makes you feel better overall, improves digestion, and improves your health at a cellular level. Don’t worry about speed. You don’t have to walk briskly. Just walk so you enjoy it.”
When I was in my 30s and had four little ones (all under 5 years old), I walked before everyone got up. If someone did get up early, my husband agreed that he would manage things until I got back. I probably got enough exercise back in those days because I was so busy chasing toddlers, but walking outside early in the morning by myself was a powerful mood changer. I used to listen to a radio show called Focus on the Family while I walked. I remember how the Lord blessed so many of those cold, early morning walks I took with Him.
Walking is a powerful mood booster as it changes many of your biochemical pathways. Add this to your new strategies for living a life of joy and happiness!
I want to confess how much time I waste scrolling through social media and watching mindless TV/movies. Would You please help me begin the routine of scheduling my day the night before? Would You please help me use my time wisely at night so I can spend time with You in the morning? Lord, I just fall into so much of my day. I know I could incredibly increase my productivity if I prepared the night before.
Lord, you also know how much trouble I have sleeping. In the middle of the night, when the logical part of my brain is not fully functioning, the WMDs beat me up and kick me in the stomach. Help me try this counting idea. It sounds so boring but again, that’s the point. I will try to be disciplined and only think about counting sheep or numbers in the middle of the night. Please soothe me and help me get back to sleep.
And help me start a Gratefulness Practice first thing every morning—for the rest of my life. I will list things I’m grateful for as well as Your many mercies. You love a grateful heart and I ask You to forgive me for thinking about all of my WMDs so often instead of being grateful.
You say that those who seek You find life and receive favor. You say You reward those who seek You. Oh my goodness! Your words are a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I feel so stupid for not seeking You with all my heart. I know You want me to do that so You can bless me.
Help me not neglect Your Word, but make seeking Your face the priority of my life.
In Jesus’ name,
Questions for Group Discussion
- Do you plan your day the night before? If not, discuss your feelings about beginning to do so. Are you aware of the amazing benefits that preparation brings? What hinders you from writing out tomorrow’s schedule at night?
- Do you have trouble going to sleep initially? Do you have trouble with middle of the night wake ups? If so, what is your current strategy to get back to sleep? Discuss with your group this concept of visualizing steps and counting numbers backwards to relax the mind.
- If you have trouble sleeping, have you evaluated your level of exercise, getting a white noise machine, and your alcohol intake? If not, please do so now.
- What was your impression of Tiger Woods taking such extraordinary preparatory measures to get ready for his final day at the Masters? Do you bemoan the work of having a Morning Happiness Routine or are you grateful that you can bathe your mind in the morning and thus, change your mood?
- Do you currently have a program to get your thinking going in the right direction as soon as you wake up? What thoughts are you going to think about as soon as you become conscious? What are the distractions for you in the early morning that would keep you from having a Morning Happiness Routine?
- Of the eight lists I mentioned in Day 3, which lists do you still need to fill out?
- What is your experience with having a regular Quiet Time to seek the Lord? Respond to this sentence: “You decide if it’s a priority to seek God every morning.”
- Have you discovered that your WMDs are the same every morning?
- What does your usual morning Bible study routine look like?
- Were you aware of the huge effect that a walk has on your mood? What are the obstacles to starting the ritual of a daily morning walk?
If there’s any way possible, I would so appreciate an honest review of the book, Happy School. I understand it takes time to leave a review so I’m trying to make it easy. You can click HERE and it will take you to Amazon where you can leave a review. It would mean a lot to me for you to do this.
Also, I am getting ready to write study guides and workbooks for all of my Genie books. I will let you know when they are ready. My goal with all of the Happy School material is for you to consistently enjoy your own happy heart, your life, your short time here on Earth, your family, your special friends, your gifts, and your walk with the Lord.