The Yawning Index

I drove in rush hour traffic* this morning and what an experience it was but not for the reasons you might think. I was in a great mood as I made my way—albeit slowly—to a local coffee shop to meet up with a fellow writer and friend. Yes, there was traffic, but that's not what I really hit me about this particular day. 

As I sat in the oh-so-inefficient 7:30am grid lock, I had the opportunity to practice one of my favourite pastimes: people watching (not in a creepy way). I watched morning commuters of all types and most had a few things in common: an expressionless, tired-looking face and a high tendency to yawn. OK, not everyone is a morning person, but this group represented an overwhelming percentage of those I had the opportunity to observe.

My first reaction upon noticing the pattern was to run a personal diagnostic check. Was I looking tired? Was I expressionless? Was I yawning? Negative on all counts, thankfully. That lead me to think about these folks and consider their situation.

They could:

  • Not be morning people.
  • Have a young child at home.
  • Have an ailment that makes quality sleep a rarity.
  • Have had a very heavy weekend. (It is a Monday after all.)
  • Be going to school at night which makes sleep a temporary luxury.
  • Be suffering from insomnia/trouble sleeping because of last night's thunderstorms or a noisy environment in general.


  • Have little or no control over their schedule.
  • Be on shift work that messes with their circadian rhythm.
  • Dislike what they do for a living or who they do it with (aka members of the walking dead).
  • Perform repetitive tasks that make them feel like an automaton.
  • Feel stuck because they don't have the skills to pursue another career.
  • Feel they need to stay in a profession because of the heavy price they paid to get there.
  • Have a level of debt that keeps them working long hours at more than one job.


  • Suffer from a combination of the above.

My hypothesized cause and effect gave me pause. It served as a reminder of what life can be like when we feel beholden to obligations that sap us of energy. I'm not suggesting that we should have no obligations. What I'm suggesting is that we're less likely to yawn when we feel our actions are a result of exercising free will.

Free will is energizing. When we feel it, we're not afraid to tackle life's tougher decisions. We decide we're going to do something and follow through.

Free will is liberating. By exercising it, we choose what's best for us. That means following our desires & our passions, fulfilling our purpose as we define it to be.

Free will is productive. By following our interests and internal drive, we produce more, better and more desirable output. We don't follow someone else's timeline. We don't have to. Our internal motivation carries us to a project's completion. 

Free will is the key to contentment. When we allow ourselves to exercise free will, we become our own boss. We make decisions based on what we want, not what others want. The reasons for action become intrinsic, not extrinsic. And that, more than anything else, is what feeds the soul.

What does all this have to do with yawning?

When have we ever seen someone who's consistently driven afflicted with chronic yawning?

Yawning may well be the best "lack of exercised free will" indicator there is.

Sure. Yawning may be a sign of various psychological and physiological states**:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Boredom
  • Inactivity
  • Distraction
  • Stress
  • The body's need for oxygen
  • The brain's need for cooling
  • A contagious reflex***

However, other than the last few points, we can surely agree that intrinsically-driven individuals have a lower propensity to yawn. Their drive keeps them focused and engaged. They're more likely to get into a flow state. They're also more likely to energize others. They may even serve as an antidote to society's current yawning epidemic.

What's your yawning index?

Low? Medium? High? 

Are you happy with it? Do you want to make a change?

*I was driving instead of walking/biking due to a severe thunderstorm watch. Hey, I'm as adventurous as the next gal, but I have my limits. BTW: If you want more info on my thoughts regarding precious time wasted behind the wheel, you might like this post: Is Driving Driving You Crazy?

**If you want to know more about current theories about why we yawn, you may like this BBC article on the subject.

***Did you yawn while reading this post? No worries, I don't take offence. ;)

Image credit/copyright: holohololand /