The Surprising History of Your Morning Routine

One day in the future, when we are wizened and grey, we may look back on our lives and regale our great-grandkids with the Kodak moments that shone like beacons in our own personal biography – our nervous first kiss, our first passionate love affair, the excitement of passing the driving test, the joy of our wedding day, the terror and wonder at the birth of a child, and, most of all, the unbridled glee of that tax rebate.

But, actually, the majority of a human life is spent trotting through a repeating pattern of mundane routines and rituals; the stuff that gets us from day to day. When our grandkids ask us what we did with our lives, the more honest answer might: ‘I slept through a third of it, and the rest was mainly a succession of boring chores to keep me alive…’

Ever since we evolved as a species, 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens have had to contend with so many basic, banal necessities – washing our bodies, caring for our teeth, urinating, defecating, eating, drinking, sleeping, socialising with others, and communicating. These things are universal across time and geography, and as a social historian they are of utmost fascination to me, not least because the history of such ordinariness is actually astonishingly extraordinary.

In my book, A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life, From Stone Age To Phone Age, I have attempted to tell the story of how our ancestors coped with these daily routines, and how our lives compare to theirs. Researching the book was incredibly eye-opening, and there are facts in there that astounded me. Please allow me to share a few with you…