Thursday, 21 November 2013

"are you happy?": one man's struggle with the Morning Sulk

In contrast to my usual business of travelling for pleasure, I recently had the pleasure of travelling for business.  The upsides of journeying on someone else's dollar were striking: the hotel pool was considerably less fetid than I had ever previously experienced, and I no longer felt compelled to "get my money's worth" by engorging my backpack with as many complimentary soaps and shower caps as possible.

As I awoke after my first night's sleep in the hotel, I started toward the bathroom to commence the most solemn of ceremonies: the removal of the "sanitised for your protection" sash from the toilet, and the accompanying un-sanitisation of said toilet that would duly follow.

But these carefree thoughts were short-lived.  As I rolled out of bed, I spied a small blue card on the bedside table that I hadn't noticed the night before:

I stopped dead in my tracks.  Unwrapping the toilet would have to wait.

"Are you happy?", I read aloud with vexed expression, as I held the thick cardboard stock in my hand.  My mind began to whirl.


Not any more.

Why was this philosopher-hotel putting questions to me at 7 in the morning concerning the human condition?  And why was it doing so by way of this stupid blue card?  The top half of this card—emblazoned with a bold and interrogative "ARE YOU"—gave off the smug air of a World War One recruitment poster, shouting a question at me from the page whilst full well knowing what the sole correct answer was.

The bottom half of the card, meanwhile, was propaganda of a different age, being straight from the Lululemon school of persuasion.  Here, the word "Happy" was written in a wispy, carefree script, accompanied by a stylised goose.  "It's so nice to be happy, isn't it", said this part of the card, "oh, just look how happy this goose in flight is; we should all be happy!"

Like a crooked pharmacist that belts children over the head and then sells them aspirin to relieve the pain, these two contradictory halves of this blue card went after my morning mood in a deadly pincer movement.

But why, you might ask, did my hotel's blunt attempt at sunrise therapy have such a profound effect upon me? Well. This little blue card triggered a chronic affliction that has beset me since the dawn of adulthood—the Morning Sulk.

I coined the term "Morning Sulk" in response to some colleagues of mine, who, unlike their 20-30 minutes, were flabbergasted at my revelation that I often take around 55-60 minutes between waking and leaving the house for work.

"What on earth takes up all that time?", they asked.

"Not what", I replied, "but who".

After awaking, while the practical side of me is preoccupied with thoughts of packing a lunch or ironing some clothes, a morose and pensive personality arises from the depths of my consciousness.  He, or it, is the Morning Sulk, a being that would rather spend 20 minutes standing on the balcony with a pot of coffee in hand staring intently at my herbs and tomato plants than do anything that would aid my daily progress through life.

The relentless heel-dragging of the Morning Sulk is balanced only by the aforementioned get-things-done part of consciousness—or, the Practical Man.  I believe Sigmund Freud came close to these realisations in the early 20th century, but ended up getting the terminology all wrong.

It's a standard morning.  I wake up.  As I walk into the bathroom, I gaze into the mirror.  The Morning Sulk arises.

"What of life?", says the Sulk.

"What of it?", replies Practical Man.

"Why must we work during set hours?  Man in his natural state never did such a thing!"

"Man in his natural state had to contend with being eaten by wolves.  He worked whenever there weren't wolves around.  I personally would prefer to start working at 9am rather than whenever I please, if it meant that I could live without fear of the flesh being torn from my bones."

But the Morning Sulk is persistent.  "Do you realise that we may be nothing more than molecules that got together millions of years ago and decided to move around and eat things?  How outrageous is it that we must now sit in gloomy buildings of our own design and do these arbitrary 'jobs'!  The wild horse doesn't have to do this!"

"The wild horse does have a job.  Its job is to walk around and eat grass and not get hurt or sick.  Because if the wild horse does get hurt or sick, it dies.  It certainly doesn't get paid to stay home and watch Bad Santa."

"Can we do that today?"

"You do realise that the conditions you sulk about are the very conditions that provide the time and luxury to make your sulking possible, don't you?"

"No really, I...uh, I mean we don't feel well today."

"Get in the shower.  Go to work."

But the Morning Sulk is rarely this explicit.  Usually, it will manifest itself in much more subtler ways, foregoing existential questions for a more nuanced approach.  The ultimate goal, however, is the same—to increase the opportunities for further sulking and introspection by preventing me from leaving the house.

Practical Man: "Time for breakfast." 
Morning Sulk: "Let's have pancakes!" 
Practical Man: "No pancakes.  Pancakes take too long to make.  We shall have Oat Flakes instead." 
Morning Sulk: "Pancakes!" 
Stomach (just waking up): "Pancakes!!" 
Practical Man: "Fine, pancakes."
Boss: "Why are you late again?"

Occasionally, the Sulk is particularly insidious, and will try to present its goals as beneficial to all concerned.

Practical Man: "We're riding the bike to work today." 
Morning Sulk: "It's pretty windy out.  Are you sure we want to do that?" 
Practical Man: "I just checked the weather online.  The wind is fine."
Morning Sulk: "That wind reading was taken at 7.00am.  We should wait until the 7.30am reading before we decide for sure.  If it's too windy we'll get cranky.  We hate headwinds."
Legs (in unison): "We hate headwinds!"
Morning Sulk (looks to guitar): "Why don't we have a couple of songs while we wait?  Songs relax us and get us ready for the day ahead."
Ears (in unison): "Songs!!"

Ordinarily, I would be surprised to see the Morning Sulk whilst away from home.  However, "are you happy?" ensured that my trip was far from ordinary.

Practical Man: "Let's see if there's any complimentary UHT milk in the fridge."  
Morning Sulk: "Oh my, look at this little blue card..." 
Practical Man: "And we should probably bring an umbrella today."  
Morning Sulk: "Are we happy?" 
Practical Man: "Hmm, tea or coffee..."  
Morning Sulk: "Are we happy??"
Practical Man: "I reckon we can sneak in a quick dip in the pool before heading off to work."
Morning Sulk: "Are we happy???" 
Practical Man: "Oh, for f***'s sake, yes, we're generally content!!  But don't you think that perhaps the hotel might be better off with a plain white piece of paper with 'GUEST SURVEY' written on it in a boring font?" 
Morning Sulk: "That's a good point.  That's a really good point.  Don't go anywhere—we should draft a blog post on this."


  1. Wonderful post - however, all I can picture is you as Gollum now...