think of happy, we use terms that suggest light. We
call a happy mood or countenance “bright” and “sunny.” We
speak of smart children as “bright”; we refer to creative and
highly intelligent thought as “brilliance”; we “see the light”
when we have a realization of truth. We sing about love
“lighting up” our lives and how we’ve “got no sunshine when you’re
gone.” On the contrary, we characterize sadness as dark.
Gloom means darkness as in low light as well as darkness of
emotion. We dress in black for mourning and we may be in a
“black mood.” Darkness seems to lie at the core of despair,
illness, dungeons, guilt, festering wounds, jealousy, the yucky
stuff. We grope without a “gleam” of hope. And so
on…you could give me your many examples of such expressions…they
abound in our and other languages.
When I was a small kid, my mother used to kick me
outside to play in the sunshine and it was often hard for me to
hoist myself up and out of the house. I was a piano-playing
addict and had a streak of plain old laziness. But once outside, I
forgot the inside world and would not be easily called back in.
There were the neighbor’s swings, dirt and hoses for mudpies, bike
rides all over Kingdom Come. There was wind, sky and
…sunshine!! Later on, I played tennis and spent hours outside each
summer day hitting the balls or watching from the bleachers.
I spent a very shined-on youth. Come summertime, the pale,
slightly paunchier, relatively listless me transformed to its
summer version: rosy-cheeked, brown as a berry, svelt (despite
eating enough for three or four of me now) and effortlessly
energetic and strong. Add cheery to the list.
What I realized is that the common denominator to my
merrier and more energetic times is sunshine. This has stuck
me all the more since over the last several years I have gotten
very, very little of it. A happy person by preference and
habit, I have noticed that if I feel low, just by placing my body
in the path of sunbeams for a stretch of time, my mood lifts.
I have noticed other physical symptoms that I believe are effects
of sunshine scarcity, but this article is about mood.
Light Combats Depression
Official statistics often quoted in the media state
that millions of Americans and many more worldwide suffer from
depression. Depression is a highly promoted “illness.”
These statistics are commonly used as support for widespread
marketing of anti-depressant drugs to overcome this problem of
This has struck my husband and I as odd and
unfortunate. We’ve never been ones to opt to simply chase and
suppress symptoms. We’d rather bother to go for causes.
Why not look into WHY people are depressed and locate more natural
solutions to help these people? Why not take a holistic
approach that looks at the whole person and the overall health and
As it turns out, there are nearly always fairly simple,
easily fixable physical problems underlying depression. Poor
diet, blood sugar imbalances (such as hypoglycemia), allergies,
imbalances such as yeast overgrowth (candida albicans), chemical
exposures and other things can trigger depression. Simple
changes of diet and lifestyle and a return to a more natural,
chemical-free environment can help tremendously. None of
these solutions involves taking possibly dangerous, mind-altering
Recently it has struck us that exposure to light is
perhaps one of the most useful tools to reduce or eliminate
depression — bright light. In our research on this subject
we found some fascinating information I’d like to share with you.
Our Ancestors Were Rarely Depressed
If real depression had been as widespread in times past
as it is now, it’s hard to imagine how our civilization could ever
have been built. Man certainly has been an energetic,
industrious and creative fellow. He’s also been naughty,
blood-thirsty, misled and crass, so I don’t mean to suggest a
slanted, unrealistic picture… all of history has not been a
rose-scented delight! But even when behaving cruelly or
stupidly, earlier mankind was obviously not generally immobilized
by depression. And beholding the works of art, architecture,
engineering and science that Man created long before he invented
computers, electric lights or any of the other modern
conveniences, we feel awe. Tour a really old city and you’re
struck with its aesthetics and you feel the pride with which
people built and lived in it. They cared, they wanted their
creations to be glorious and lasting and they had the raw energy
and persistence to make them with little but their own sweat,
skill and ingenuity upon which to draw. These were not
broadly depressed societies.
What did these folks have that we do not or what do we
have that they did not? What aspect of lifestyle changed to
move the population toward depression? In a nutshell:
WE WENT INDOORS!
While Man has been building shelters of various kind
for millennia, he was not “cooped up in them” until quite
recently. Man came into his own as a creature rooted in
OUTDOOR activities. Hunting & gathering, then clearing land,
plowing, planting, harvesting, tending livestock, grinding grains,
washing clothes, traveling, games and sports - all these had
humans out in the bright light of the sun for many hours of each
Through most of history, our skin, our nervous systems,
our eyes, our sleep patterns, our hormones and many other things
have been all affected, balanced, nourished or “re-set” by
exposure to bright sunlight on a regular, predicable schedule.
Efficient artificial lighting changed all of this in a
relatively short time beginning in the 20th century. People
could now remain indoors as much as they liked and their exposure
to sun-bright light shrank dramatically. Nowadays in some areas,
people’s exposure may average just a few minutes a day, down from
literally many hours a day a mere century ago.
In addition to indoor lighting, other things such as
radio, then TV and now computers and the Internet keep us indoors
away from the daylight about as efficiently as a locked dungeon.
As it turns out, the light levels in a typical indoor
space are up to 100 times DIMMER than daylight. Like a good
automatic camera, our eyes automatically adjust to changes in
light, so we don’t really notice just HOW much dimmer indoor
lighting is. The dim light indoors is not enough to trigger
our hormones, reset our biological clocks, etc. The result
can be sleep disturbance and a host of other problems that may add
up to depression.
Most plants wilt and wither without sunlight.
People, it seems, do, too.
Solutions For A Brighter Life
Fortunately, solving this problem is easy. All we
need to do is expose ourselves to really bright light for perhaps
an hour a day in most cases. Some people may need more.
This can be sunlight, of course, but does not have to
be. Studies with both natural and artificial light have
shown that brightness is more important than source. I feel
that since sunlight is what our bodies are familiar with, that
actual sunlight is the best option — maybe scientists have not
uncovered every aspect of its composition and effect upon us — but
relying only upon natural light doesn’t do us much good in cloudy
or dark weather. The fact that brightness is the most
crucial factor is particularly good news for people who live in
darker areas such as the North in winter or very cloudy and rainy
In sunny areas where the days are not too short, taking
about an hour’s walk in mid-morning or mid-afternoon is very
sufficient for most people to get the bright light their bodies
People who are concerned about ultraviolet exposure
should take their walks before 10 am or after 3 pm, as UV light is
more intense in the midday hours. On the other hand, UV
light helps our bodies manufacture essential Vitamin D.
Also, given that our diets include plenty of fresh, raw foods and
anti-oxidants, given that we do not apply rancid oils to our skin
or ingest them and given that we do not let ourselves get actually
sunburned, skin cancer need not necessarily be a serious concern.
For well-nourished people, sensible exposure to sunlight has many
health benefits that may outweigh the risks.
People who are unable to go outside or who live in a
gloomy environment can use artificial lights to do the trick.
Bright fluorescent lights with diffusers are adequate. However, it
is important to use modern “flicker-free” fixtures, not the old
fashioned kind with magnetic
transformers that flicker on and off 60 times a second along with
the household current.
These lights need
to be BRIGHT - not the standard (weak) bulbs used in some fixtures
but good strong ones.
Our ancestors were bathed in natural sunlight all these
millennia. While it has been shown that any bright light can
help in depression, I believe that there is likely an as yet
undiscovered value in the particular pattern of light emitted by
the sun as opposed to normal, artificial lights.
My first choice is to get outside if possible into the
sunlight; next best, if one can afford it, seems to be the
lightboxes or fixtures that use “full spectrum” light bulbs
designed to mimic natural sunlight. Exercise caution,
however - if such bulbs emit UV light, this should be filtered or
reduced to a safe level by the addition of a proper diffuser.
Kevin has found some good-quality lightboxes and other
fixtures suitable for light therapy that we're happy to recommend;
please email us if you'd like more info.
Have a bright and happy day!
Copyright (c) 2004 by Organic Beauty, Inc.
Disclaimer: The above information is presented for educational
purposes only. The reader should consult a licensed health
practitioner for his or her health needs.
Please make sure to visit Evan's web