The Joy of Sunshine

By Amanda Pasciucco, LMFT, CST

As soon as the sun starts shining, the world gets happier. Recently, it hit 60 degrees in New England, and it seemed like everyone was more cheerful. I noticed more people smiling, individuals being friendly and courteous, and a diminished sense of “rushing” or “urgency” around me. I appreciated the sudden shift in energy and decided to delve into understanding this sunshine shift.

My recent experience. I was blessed with the privilege of retreating to the beach recently. I decided to go on a solo excursion to enjoy the peace of the water and basking in the glorious sunlight. I had my apprehensions before going: the cost of getting in, the crowds who would have the same idea, and my fear of bees swarming. I decided to forget about that and just take time to appreciate the opportunity.

I arrived (there was no cost to enter), I made my way to the beach (there were barely any people around), and I relaxed (only flies… no bees). I looked around and truly appreciated the moment that I was in. I felt so thankful for that moment where the sun was beating on me, I had nothing to do, and I could just enjoy the sights, sounds, and feeling of that moment. This sense of peace stayed with me throughout the entire rest of the day. I never felt so calm and at ease as I did when I made a conscious effort to be mindful and present within the sunlight.

Note to self: get out in the sun more often!

The science behind it. In earlier times, people spent most of their time outdoors and in the sunlight. We know that, now, we spend much more time indoors, thus we refrain from getting the necessary amount of Vitamin D. The importance of this vitamin is to keep our immune systems working hard to fight off infections and to support bone growth. In addition to providing us with Vitamin D, sunlight triggers the circadian rhythms (our awake-to-sleep cycles). When sunlight hits our optic nerves, the brain slows down on its release of melatonin (the hormone responsible for sleep) and increases our serotonin (which is responsible for wakefulness and feelings of happiness). After the sun sets, this cycle reverses. The more sun we get, the more serotonin the brain produces.

Sunlight = Happiness. In addition to the scientific part of it, there is also a psychological factor. We tend to associate sunlight with vacations and tanning with days off from work. This mental state leads to a happier self. Due to both the psychological and scientific aspects, I believe I have my answer as to why the world just seems happier when the sun comes out. Look forward to a summer of friendlier faces.