Why do we feel happier in the summer?
American singer-songwriter Lana Del Ray topped the UK charts last year with her song ‘Summertime Sadness’, but contrary to the song’s melancholy message, many people report themselves to be at their happiest during the summer. But what is it about the summer that makes us so happy?
Cultural reasons for summertime gladness
The arrival of summer in the UK is a time of celebration, we have much to look forward to – holidays, festivals, barbeques and the chance of being able to leave the house without an emergency umbrella and a thermal vest. As children we looked forward to our six week summer break school and as adults the spirit to holiday in summer lives on, a study by the ABTA travel association showed that the average UK resident took 3 holidays per year (either in the UK or overseas), and 21% of people view their annual holiday as a necessity.
But it isn’t just about jetting off to warmer climes, the summer is also synonymous with other happiness-inducing phenomena that provide us with chances to socialise, escape our usual routine and enjoy the outdoors, whether that’s sporting events such as Wimbledon, changes in fashion as the Spring/Summer collections hit the high street, the release of the summer blockbuster in cinemas or even the addition of our favourite summer foods, from strawberries to Pimms, to our diet.
Also crucial to the enjoyment of summer is the increased social activity – longer days and nicer weather mean that opportunities for social interaction are greatly increased. In fact, a study in 2008 using the American Time Use Survey found that when the weather was sunny, men left their offices thirty minutes earlier than on rainy days, suggesting that nice weather motivates us to pursue leisure activities when we might otherwise work the day away.
Physical reasons for summertime gladness
The fact that we feel happier in the sun hasn’t gone unnoticed by medical professionals and there are an increasing number of studies into the link between sun exposure and mood. Some researchers believe that Vitamin D, which our bodies create from sunlight, is key to a good mood. Vitamin D is also accessible through food such as oily fish and supplements, and has been shown to lessen symptoms of depression when taken as a supplement.
In addition to vitamin D, it could also be the light itself that causes the boost in mood – when the light hits our eyes, it stops the production of melatonin, the hormone which makes us feel tired, making us feel more energetic when the sun is out.
Whatever the weather, the advice for mental health and wellbeing remains the same – stay active, eat well, get outdoors, be social and look after yourself. And if you are venturing into the sun this summer, use SFP and UVA protection, keep hydrated and to stay out of the midday sun.
For information on summer health essentials, see the NHS Summer Health at Home campaign, for more information on how to stay healthy at festivals and how to have a safe barbeque, check out the WMS Summer Wellbeing series.