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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Happy Light Is A Mood Changer!

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

We are always on the lookout for the "next big thing" to clean the air, purify the water, revitalize our energy, or otherwise improve our personal environment and, by extension, our life in general. We have air purifiers that clean and sterilize the air, vitamins that purport to vitalize, incense to relax and incense to focus, and a house-wide water purification system that would rival that on the space station (and by the way, we still drink bottled water!). When we saw a special full spectrum color-tuned bright light claiming it could improve mood, lower stress, restore energy, and ward off the wintertime blues, we snapped up two.

This was no frivolous, emotion-driven impulse purchase, though. There is a fairly large body of scientific work indicating that light (but not just any light) can have a profound positive impact on our mood.

There is, in fact, a condition called "Seasonal Affective Disorder" or "SAD." SAD is widely recognized in the medical and scientific community… so much so that the condition merits its own "prevalence statistics" – the percentage of people suffering from the condition in the general population. That SAD is a real condition is indisputable, since the prevalence ranges from 1.4% of the population in Florida to a whopping 9.7% in New Hampshire. People suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder experience a serious mood change in winter that fully remits in summer.

Figure 3 - Quiet, semi-dark room, computer, and me - an instant
prescription for drowsiness before the "happy" light

Folks with SAD may oversleep, experience depression, and feel a lack of energy. And guess what? One of the widely recognized treatments for SAD is light therapy. Full spectrum light at 10,000 LUX is apparently best, and an hour or so a day will supposedly chase away those winter blues.

My wife suggested that I put my "happy" light in my shop, but I explained to her that I am never sad when I am in my shop – winter or summer, my shop is a very "happy place." Instead I placed the light next to my computer, facing me, so the light hits my face but is not directly in my eyes (per the manufacturer's instructions). I use it whenever I am at the computer writing, editing videos, or answering email. And you know what? The light has made a difference.

Staring at a computer, at least for me, is a sure way to bring on drowsiness, no matter the hour. The intense light seems to make me more alert, and I think I may be just a smidge happier. Just now I caught myself smiling for no apparent reason.

Apparently everyone in New Hampshire needs to rush out to get one of these lights, but it could be beneficial no matter where you live. As the days get shorter the availability of natural light decreases and you may find yourself in a "funk" for no apparent reason. If it happens, get a "happy" light. It couldn't hurt!

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