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
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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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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