ELLEN GELLER KAMARAS
Do you feel happier in the summer? Are you walking lighter? Do you have less weight on your shoulders?
I can answer a resounding YES to all three questions. We all wear lighter-weight clothing in warmer weather, which literally lessens our load.
It’s a joyful and empowering feeling to walk outside without layers of clothing – a hoodie, coat, scarf, hat, gloves, and boots. It’s so much easier to run errands when less encumbered, and even go to a doctor or dentist appointment.
What makes us happier in the summer?
First, let’s define happiness. A simple definition of happiness is feeling or showing pleasure.
Happiness is not a state of continuous euphoria. It’s more of an overall sense of experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones.
Perceptions of happiness differ from one individual to the next and happy people experience the entire gamut of human emotions at various times. These emotions include anger, boredom, frustration, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and sadness. However, even when confronted with distress, happy people maintain a core sense of optimism that things will improve. They take action to move towards overcoming their challenges to feel happy again.
Next, let’s talk about the feel-good factor connected to the sun and warmer weather.
What is it about sunshine that makes us feel happy? What is the science behind it?
The scientific answer for why the sun boosts our mood is that there is a link between sunlight and our serotonin levels.
Although too much exposure to the sun’s rays can be harmful to our skin, exposure to sunlight is believed to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is correlated with boosting one’s mood.
Documented research shows that the warmer weather and summer sunlight in our part of the world can make us feel happier, more creative, and more focused. That is because the brain produces more serotonin on sunny days than it does on darker days. Serotonin is a mood-lifting chemical and is often called a natural antidepressant. Many people develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the dark days of winter, which causes symptoms of depression including moodiness, low energy, lack of interest in daily activities, and more.
Now that you know that we naturally feel happier in the warmer weather, how are you going to leverage the feel-good factor this coming summer?
Here are some suggestions:
Identify your three favorite aspects of summer. Is it the beach, having a lighter workload, or more free time with no carpools or children’s homework needs?
Once you have decided what you love about summer, make sure to incorporate time for those activities in your calendar.
Get outdoors. Carve out time to get outdoors in nature every day to enhance your physical and mental health. Sunlight is a natural source for Vitamin D, which helps you fight various diseases. Soak up some sun in limited doses. People who spend time in the green outdoors are generally less anxious, less depressed, and have improved focus and creativity.
Schedule an outdoor walk in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not too strong. Start a walking group with like-minded individuals. Or flex your green thumb. Gardening can help you burn calories, relieve stress, and improve your diet by eating home-grown healthy veggies and getting back to nature and to your roots, literally!
Get out of your comfort zone, explore, and experience. Are there activities you have dreamed about doing or places you would love to see? The summer is an opportune time to try out a new sport, visit a new park, or shop for antiques upstate.
How about kicking off a healthy new eating regimen? What a perfect time to start off the day with a chilled vegetable or fruit smoothie! Also, summer may afford you more time to cut the fruits and veggies.
Play tourist and have an adventure. Try ferry hopping. Enjoy the cool breeze, the beautiful views, and new sights.
Dust off that bucket list and check off some of those items. Your bucket list goals need not be expensive or require extensive travel. Have you always wanted to learn a new language or sleep in a tree house? Or train for a marathon?
Reconnect with friends and family. Nurture your significant relationships. Isn’t it easier to have dinner with friends or family when your children don’t have homework and you don’t need to carpool or travel in the snow?
Indulge your inner child. We are never too old to fly a kite, ride a carousel, or build a sandcastle.
Nourish your spirit. Try something new to grow spiritually. How about committing to one new mitzvah or learning project for the summer?
Wishing you a fun and healthy summer!