On spring fever and happiness
What a joy! The warm days of spring are coming up, and soon, you will not be able to stop yourself from smiling when you go out for lunch without a jacket for the first time this year. Many of us long for these heartwarming rays of sunshine and suddenly, before you know it, the parks will have started to fill up with people rejoicing at the temperature and the first white crocuses pushing their way through the ground. Spring is arriving and the whole country breathes a sigh of relief: but there must be more to it than what we all think. Discover Germany searched for the biological reasons behind spring fever and the best ways to fall under it –even if the sky is still grey where you are.
The seasonal changes of emotions have only really been in the focus of science since very recently, whereas poets have described the restlessness, the deep desire for a new beginning and the passion, which arise in many humans in the months of March, April and May, for centuries. Most famously observed by Alfred Lord Tennyson: ‘In spring, a young man’s fancy light turns to thoughts of love.’ (Locksley Hall), and by William Shakespeare: ‘In springtime, the only pretty ring time, when birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; Sweet lovers love the spring.’ (It Was a Lover and His Lass).
The psychiatrist, public speaker and best-selling author, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, researched seasonal effects on emotions and was the first to describe and name ’seasonal affective disorder’ (SAD) in the 1980s. “In spring, the wheels of my mind start to speed again. An increased production of serotonin and testosterone are some of the chemical reasons for the high energy level most of us perceive,” Rosenthal explains. As days are longer in spring, many people tend to wake up earlier and stay out longer at night – thanks to the internal clock in the human brain which helps to measure the length of a day. Melatonin, dubbed the sleep hormone, is only released in darkness, so with an increase of sunlight less Melatonin is discharged; with the consequence that many people feel more energetic in spring. It is not surprising that many of us feel the need to arrange the house and the garden, buy new clothes or start to feel more alive again.
Does spring fever, as Tennyson indicated, really stimulate the human sex drive? Scientists have tried to prove this theory in different ways, such as by measuring the testosterone level, the onset of menopause and the changes of birth rate by seasons − with striking results. The lowest testosterone levels occurred in months with the highest temperatures and longest hours of daylight, whereas the onset of menopause is higher in winter than in spring. Although scientists still argue about the climatic effects of birth rate, the Federal Statistical Office, DESTATIS, has measured a high birth rate in July, August and September over the last 30 years. So, according to those studies, we can deduce that there is no real biological evidence of a higher sex drive in spring season. Instead, we can probably conclude that the higher energy level, and with that the resulting good mood, might well be more responsible for our passion in spring.
What to do to get in the mood
But what if it has been raining cats and dogs for the last few weeks? How can we hope to feel spring fever? Dr. Rosenthal provides some simple tips: “Decorate your house with fresh, colourful flowers. Poems can help you to feel better, too.” After dedicating some time to transcendental meditation, the psychiatrist now uses poetry in his work with patients. After a friend introduced him to One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, he felt a mood change in himself and suspected that a similar change might occur within his patients – and with great success, it turned out. Now, he provides a blog to let people share their own experiences of the healing effects of poems.
Finally, what does happiness mean for Dr. Rosenthal? “For me, happiness means being able to recognise a good thing when I see it.” He advises that people must open their own minds to possibilities, because “chances favour the prepared mind”. So, the next time you experience a sunny day, for example, make the most of it – even if it is just to take the opportunity to enjoy a short walk after lunch.
To learn more about Dr. Rosenthal’s work or to exchange ideas with the psychiatrist, you can visit his blog: www.normanrosenthal.com
TEXT: HANNAH KROLLE I PHOTOS: PIXABAY
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