There are at least a dozen things that go through my mind from the time I sit up in bed to when I slide my feet inside my slippers and stand up each morning. Those thoughts, along with my feet and knees telling me getting out of bed was a really bad idea, are compounded exponentially as I shamble through a dark house in search of the coffee pot like Galahad in search of the Holy Grail.

And as my fuzzy, sleep-addled brain begins to process things like “Why are coffee filters so hard to get apart?” and my bleary eyes try to determine which button on the pot is the “on” button, rational thought slowly kicks in like a car struggling to start on a cold winter morning.

Yeah, I’m not a morning person; regardless of when morning happens. Over the years I have trained myself to become a “morning person” because there are things to do after all. But I always thought mornings were like a “sucker punch,” an annoying occurrence that usually requires a pot of the black stuff to overcome. And like that cheap shot, all the thoughts percolating in my subconscious overnight are ready with questions and concerns, and demanding answers, before I ever get the first cup down. No other human being has enough nerve to begin pestering me before my eyes are clearly caffeine-focused, but it seems that (at least to myself) I am something of a jerk.

I am not alone in this, and for that everyone has my sympathy. You see, our brains are actually on all the time whether we are paying attention or not, always processing and questioning all the stimuli we receive. When we are awake then we have a little control, and that varies by the individual and how focused they choose to be at any given waking moment.

When we go to sleep, however, the brain is taken over by a hyperactive child living in the Sugar Shack. We can choose to put things on the back burner while awake, but when we fall asleep our subconscious takes all the toys out of the box and begins to play. In their defense, they do sort of pick stuff up and shove that stuff into at least the general vicinity of the toy box, but we will inevitably step on at least one Lego as that “sugar rush” gives way to the coffee pot shuffle.

Ironically — and as infinitely annoying as it might seem — most health professionals will tell you this entire process is the sign of a healthy human mind. We go through our lives gathering far too much information for our distracted conscious mind to effectively process. We are using our energy to do things such as go to school or work, to learn and ideally produce some sort of desired results by the end of the day. We take stimuli and process it by a complicated hierarchy of use and need, and this is qualified by when those things are needed or used, sort of like that Now and Later candy which is disturbingly satisfying. And the rest of the stuff we don’t need right now is shoved into the subconscious mind’s toy box.

What? Did you actually think our hyperactive friend got out and drove around town looking for that stuff while we were snoring and stealing the covers? Nope, they work with what we give them, and in return keep us from going out of our collective minds. Occasionally we see some of their work in the form of dreams and those random thoughts that seem to pop up out of nowhere. But before we discount those dinosaur bus driver dreams or suddenly wondering if fish truly enjoy seafood (OK, I stole that one from Dudley Moore) as a self-defense mechanism, we need to realize that most of what our little friend does when we sleep is a direct result of the toys we — and the rest of the world — put in the box.

In today’s world there seems to be a lot of dark stuff going into our collective toy boxes. COVID-19, racial injustice, rising unemployment rates and job insecurity are like a bitter cream rising to the top of curdled milk; definitely not something we want in our morning lattes. These things weigh upon our waking minds so heavily that they spill over into our sleep and poison our dreams to the point where we never escape concern and worry. If we allow them to, these worries can make our waking lives miserable, and our subconscious playmate shuffles along behind us, unable to play but still going through the motions. And then no one is having any fun at all.

But fortunately, there are always at least a few good things in the world around us, and happy thoughts both conscious and otherwise that still have the power to make us smile. We should focus on these as much as possible even — especially — in dark times. It is the thoughts which make us smile that give our lives peace and enjoyment.

No, I’m not saying “just think happy thoughts,” because anyone that tells you just to be happy and not take anything seriously is selling something. Truthfully, some things do require serious thought, after all. But we need to find a balance between the serious and the silly, the good and the bad, because life is always a balance of both. But we can never discount the power of a smile to make both our lives and the lives of others at least a little better, and if we can’t find a thought or memory to help us smile, then we should go out and make one that does.

Now, a dinosaur barista would definitely be something to smile about ... you’re welcome.

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