by Justin Standfield
It’s 15th March and the sun is shining brightly here in the south of England. It’s the first sun we’ve seen in months and it’s a welcome sight. It’s such a relief to see the sun after months of rainy grey skies, with biting wind and mucky spray making our cars filthy. Even though the temperature is still low, it’s sunny and that makes all the difference to my mood and motivation level – a huge difference.
There have been lots of studies completed on how sunshine affects mood, and people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) throughout the long winter months. The National Institutes of Health in the United States conducted a study led by Dr Norman Rosenthal and they found that 6% of the US population is affected by SAD in its most severe form, and a further 14% suffer from a lesser form of SAD. This research shows that 20% of the adult population experience the effects of SAD, that’s one in five people or 10 million Americans. In the study, Dr Rosenthal acknowledged that the impact of SAD mainly affects people living in the northern hemisphere.
Statistically, this makes it one of the most commonly experienced forms of depression worldwide.
In most UK companies, absence levels peak during December and January every year (source: CIPD). This could be because more viruses like colds and flu tend to peak around these months, but I also wonder what proportion of absence relates to SAD or more generally low motivation levels affected by the weather? Let’s face it – if you don’t feel well and its sunny outside, I think the vast majority of people would be more inclined to get up and make the effort to go to work, than if it was raining, grey, windy and generally unpleasant outside. Maybe in the darkest days of winter, it’s easier to text your boss, get back under the duvet and spend the day nursing your miserable cold than it is to get dressed and head out into the squalls.
But…back to the sunshine! Today, it was light when I got out of bed and it will be light when I drive home. I will be able to walk the dog without wearing a head torch; I will head out to the greenhouse when I get home from work to water my seedlings, rather than putting it off until tomorrow; I will be able to walk across dry decking in the garden with very little risk of slipping and breaking any bones.
And all because the sun is out. The wonderful, motivating, warming, happy-mood sun.
I know that today I went for a longer walk at lunchtime than I normally do. I have a view (albeit across my client’s car park) that is bright and has caught my eye today much more than it would do on a wet, grey day. I’ve even caught myself staring out of the window, wanting to get out in the sunshine before it disappears again.
When it’s sunny, I can feel that I am lighter and happier. I socialise more when it’s sunny and I spend more time outdoors in the fresh air; I’m even able to work with some coaching clients outside in nature, rather than sitting in a meeting room. When the sun is shining, I spend more time in the garden, I’m more inclined to play football with my son and walking the dog takes on an additional positive aspect – all thanks to the sun. I’m not suggesting that I necessarily want to spend lots more time at work when it’s sunny (let’s be reasonable!) but I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit faster today, a bit more productive, a bit lighter in my walking to and from meetings.
So, is there an opposite version of SAD? Is there a ‘Happy’ syndrome? And if there is, does it explain why people from permanently sunny locations tend to be more chilled and positive than those of us who live permanently in wetter climes? Maybe it’s time for me to consider whether the UK suits my biological make-up and personality – perhaps an extended visit to the Bahamas would be a really good mental health strategy and I could offer my research findings to Dr Rosenthal and his team (now I just need someone to give me his email address so that I can apply for a research grant to cover the cost of the flights and the hotel).
- How does the weather affect your mood?
- What do you do to counteract it, when you feel the need to?
- What aspect of the nicer weather do you notice might be ‘making’ you happier?