Future

The Science Of Why Spring Makes Us Happy

There are medically proven explanations for why our minds and bodies generally feel better when the season changes. So, goodbye Winter Blues, and hello Spring Euphoria!

Happy iris
Happy iris
Valentin Frimmer

BERLIN — Spring is finally here, and thanks to the sun’s warming rays, many people are now in very good moods. But while many believe the first warm days of the year simply feel good, spring euphoria is not an illusion — it can be scientifically explained.

We asked three researchers in different disciplines to describe the relationship between good weather and happy moods.

The psychologist. Human beings are programmed to rest when it’s dark, and to be active and in high spirits when it’s light, says Peter Walschburger, professor emeritus of biopsychology at the Freie Universität Berlin. “We react massively to light,” so conscious experience and human behavior change radically on fine spring days.

“Suddenly there are lots of people out and about, so you have a tendency to go outside,” he says. Of course, spring also means a different wardrobe that tends to show off our bodies more than winter duds, which stimulates attraction. “You see more couples out strolling,” he says. “There’s a general resonance effect.” Scents and bird song also influence us, Walschburger says. “So spring is an unbelievable time,” as opposed to winter, when we live a more confined existence, sleeping longer and putting on a little weight.

The endocrinologist. Sun rays change our hormonal balance. Hormones that have a particularly strong influence on our moods are the sleep hormone melatonin and the happiness hormone serotonin, explains Helmut Schatz, spokesman for the German Society of Endocrinology. When it gets light earlier and the sun shines more strongly, more light hits the eye. Thus the pineal gland — sometimes called the third eye — sends an order to the brain to lower melatonin production, “which makes us more lively.”

At the same time, serotonin increases in the body when it’s sunny, and with more of the happiness hormone in our blood, our moods improve. Warmth also impacts our moods, although the cold doesn’t necessarily contribute to worse moods. As Schatz points out, a cold winter’s day is not necessarily a downer. “You also feel pretty good sitting in front of a ski hut in the sun,” he says.

The doctor. People are sensitive to weather and always have been. “It’s in our genes, it’s ancient,” says medical meteorologist Gerhard Lux of the DWD weather service. Though our wellbeing in no longer weather-dependent — because of air-conditioning and heating — the weather still influences us.

In spring, both the sun’s rays and a seasonal rhythm are responsible for a spring in our steps. “Suddenly, we feel like going somewhere where we can get a cool beer or an ice cream,” Lux says. “The wish to be a part of things is activated.”

Certain effects of light lead the body to focus on particular desires such as food and sex. In principle, it’s a positive sign, when the body reacts positively to a beautiful day, he says. “It’s a sign that things are in good working order.”

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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