Germany

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

How The Top Collector Of Chinese Art Evades Censors In New Hong Kong Museum

Swiss businessman Uli Sigg is the most important collector of Chinese contemporary art. In 2012, he gave away most of his collection to the M+ in Hong Kong. Now the museum has opened as the Communist Party is cracking down hard on freedom of expression. So how do you run a museum in the face of widespread censorship from Beijing?

''Rouge 1992'' by Li Shan at the M+ museum

Maximilian Kalkhof

The first test has been passed, Uli Sigg thinks. So far, everything has gone well. His new exhibition has opened, visitors like to come, and — this is the most important thing for the Swiss businessman — everything is on display. He has not had to take an exhibit off the list of works.

The M+ in Hong Kong is a new museum that wants to compete with the established ones. It wants to surpass the MoMa in New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris. Sigg, a rather down-to-earth man, says: “There is no better museum in the whole world.” That is very much self-praise, since Sigg’s own collection is central to the museum.

The only problem is: great art is often political; it questions the rulers. Since the Chinese Communist Party has been cracking down on critics and freedom in Hong Kong, the metropolis is a bad place for politics and art. So how did the collection get there?

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