There’s a reason that sunlight is always associated with happiness.
Lots of ancient civilizations believed that the sun makes you happy. They believed the sun had healing powers and used sunbathing for medical purposes. Even as recently as the 19th-century doctors were convinced that good old sunlight and fresh air was the best thing for diseases like tuberculosis and rickets.
They weren’t that far off. Sunlight and its resulting interactions with your body have tons of benefits, especially for your brain and your mood.
According to a study done at Brigham Young University, your daily intake of sunlight is one of the only environmental factors that matters when it comes to happy brain chemistry. As it turns out, humans are fairly adaptable, so daily weather conditions don’t affect us as much as the sun only showing up for 8 hours a day. That’s because, as we have always suspected, sunlight provides essential stuff that we need to feel happy and healthy.
Low Vitamin D Leads To Depression
You’ve probably already heard that sunlight is related to Vitamin D. It’s an important player in a lot of areas of your body, like bone formation and teeth and is essential for keeping the clouds away.
Research shows that having a deficiency of Vitamin D (less than 20 nanograms per millilitre) makes you 85 percent more likely to develop depression than people who don’t.
That’s because there are loads of vitamin D receptors in the brain, especially in areas that are linked to the development of depression. Scientists believe that vitamin D affects the number of monoamines, which are chemicals like serotonin, and how well they work in your brain. So no vitamin D means no serotonin. Or at least less effective serotonin.
Serotonin Makes You Happy
Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that helps you feel calm and focused and happy. When sunlight hits your eyes, more specifically a certain spot in your retina, it cues a release of serotonin which causes a decrease in anxiety and an increase in feelings of contentment.
Serotonin also plays a large part in your gut health, sleeping habits and how sexy (or not) you feel. So, it makes sense that if you’re not getting enough sunlight then your brain isn’t releasing enough serotonin, making you feel anxious and depressed.
This is especially common in the winter months for people that live in higher latitudes. When you have a longer working day than the sun, your exposure to it drops considerably. This usually results in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression.
Bask in the rays
Without UV-B (ultraviolet) rays from the sun, vitamin D would be pretty much useless. In the 1920s this doctor figured out that we need UV-B rays to photosynthesize vitamin D so that we can reap its many benefits.
So the internet is right about one thing at least: we are basically house plants with anxiety.
Besides UV-B rays, your body happily soaks up the other types of light in the spectrum too.
For example, when ultraviolet rays touch our skin, it releases endorphins, which boost our mood. Specifically, UVA rays cause our body to produce nitric oxide which lowers blood pressure. It also makes it easier for your body to absorb near-infrared light, which recharges your cells’ batteries and in turn gives you more energy.
Because of these benefits, light therapy is a very popular therapy for depression and SAD. It works especially well for those of us in the northern hemisphere who have trouble getting any viable sunlight in the winter months.
The sun’s rays help to regulate your sleeping patterns too. When light enters our eyes and touches our skin, it signals to our body that we are supposed to be awake and energetic. Likewise, when it gets dark our body thinks it’s time to sleep. Not getting enough sunlight can mess with your melatonin levels, making it harder to get a night of quality sleep.
Just Go Outside
So we have established that sunlight has lots of health benefits that can be measured with research and statistics, but it is also a worthwhile experience to just interact with the world.
You don’t have to interact with people, you don’t even have to leave your front door.
You can even stick your head out the window if you want.
I just want you to take a breath of fresh air and observe.
Feel the heat of the sun on your face.
Feel the breeze across your skin.
Notice the buds on the trees, or the flower persevering through the cracks of the pavement.
Watch an old woman waiting quietly for the bus and wonder about her first love or her favourite food.
I think depression can make us feel like we are apart from the world and like there’s nowhere where we fit. Experiencing the world helps us find our place in it.