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The wonderful science behind spring happiness

(Collegian File Photo)

Despite recent rainy weather and the late-season snowstorm that Mother Nature pranked us with on April Fool’s Day, Amherst is officially welcoming in warmer weather. When the clouds clear from the sky, students can be found scattered across campus, soaking up the sun in every possible nook and cranny. From laying out in the grass by the campus pond, to playing guitar and singing with friends on Orchard Hill, to a group Frisbee toss on Southwest Beach, the campus buzzes with energy on days when the sky is blue, the sun is bright, and the temperature breaks the 40s. In the wise words of Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party.’”

There is actually a science behind this spring happiness. An increase in exposure to sunlight is able to produce an increase in feelings of positivity on two counts: our bodies’ natural and chemical reaction to getting more vitamin D and the consequences of getting to spend more time outside.

Exposure to sunlight both increases the production of serotonin in the body, and decreases the production of melatonin. Psychology Today calls serotonin “The Confidence Molecule” because higher serotonin levels are associated with increased self-esteem and happiness. Depression is often linked to a low level of serotonin production. In a 2008 study done by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, scientists found that serotonin transporters, which remove serotonin, are more abundant in the fall and winter; thus, people have an increased level of serotonin in the spring and the summer.

Melatonin is a hormone produced in our brain that essentially determines when we sleep. Typically, melatonin levels will rise at night to signal that it is time to get sleepy. It is what makes us drowsy, and helps regulate our internal clock. Spring’s increase in sunlight, and the lengthening of daylight after the spring equinox, decreases melatonin levels, leaving people feeling more energized.

Moreover, the warm weather means that people go outside more in general, and are typically more active during this time. By starting to exercise again more in the springtime, thanks to that sunshine and chemically-induced increase of personal energy, people also get to enjoy that extra kick of endorphins. Anyone who’s seen Legally Blonde knows “exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

Good weather and sunlight mean outdoor quality time, longer daylight hours, and an increase in energy. Put together, these factors often lead to an increase in socializing as well. Simply being around other people can often increase happy hormones, such as endorphins and oxytocin. There’s a reason so many writers gush about this season. Even Hemingway, who was certainly not known for being an optimist, wrote, “When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.”

The flowers are blooming, adorable baby animals are being born, and joy is on the rise. Taking small steps to fully embrace the season will further boost your own personal happiness levels.

When you have time, go outside between classes and relax for a few minutes under the sun on one of the many grassy spots the University of Massachusetts campus has laying around. Enjoy the weather by opting to walk instead of taking the bus. Grab lunch to go and indulge in a spontaneous picnic. Take advantage of that natural lighting for some great selfies because you’re beaming at the fact that next week is supposed to have weather over 70 degrees. Suggest hikes, bikes, or Frisbee games with friends. Literally stop and smell the flowers. Take a moment to appreciate getting out of class at 6:30 p.m. and still being able to see sunlight. Let your mind release those happy hormones because it’s that time of the year.
Madeleine Jackman can be reached at mjackman@umass.edu.

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