Can Spending More Time in the Sun Make Us Happier?

We all know that the sun is associated with happiness. Ever tell someone they have a “sunny personality” or notice one of the sun emojis has a smiley face drawn on it? Even words like “warm,” “bright” and “yellow” seem to naturally evoke feelings of positivity when we use them.

Turns out, the sun’s, well, sunny reputation is not just the stuff of folklore and nursery rhymes. The sun—and all the vitamins that come with it—actually do make us feel happier, whether we realize it or not.

In fact, not only is getting some rays beneficial to your health, it’s actually pretty necessary. Vitamin D, which your body produces when exposed to the sun, helps us fight disease, improve bone health and even contribute to weight regulation. And the benefits extend beyond the physical: Soaking in some sunshine has also been found to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, increasing our levels of happiness.

While getting outside can certainly help you stock up on this “sunshine vitamin,” it’s not the only way you get more of it. You can also eat vitamin D-rich foods, such as egg yolks or cheese, or talk to your health care provider about taking a supplement, says board-certified psychologist Dion Metzger. 

But no matter how you up your intake, the benefits are the worth it. Dr. Metzger tells us exactly why sunshine is so important to our overall well being. So c’mon, get outside!

It boosts your serotonin levels

We all know serotonin—it’s that feel-good hormone our body releases to regulate our mood. When we are experiencing increased serotonin levels, it means feelings of anxiety are reduced and overall joy and happiness are boosted. So when we spend time in the sun, our brain triggers the release of serotonin, improving our mood and making us feel good. Maybe that explains why we look forward to beach days or always reach for the window seat…

Those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder understand this well. When it’s wintertime and the days are short and gloomy, many typically experience feelings of depression and helplessness. But when the spring and summer seasons roll around, we often find ourselves feeling more uplifted and eager to start the day.  

While we can’t control the weather, we can take advantage of the sunshine when it’s available to us. Schedule time on your work calendar to go outside for a quick walk or choose to eat on the patio instead of in a booth. And when it’s not so bright and sunny out? Consider indulging in Vitamin D-enriched foods or taking a nutritional supplement.

It encourages you to exercise

Now this one is hard to disagree with. How many times have you been looking forward to a run outside or yoga in the park, only to wake up to rain and gloom? No longer do you feel inspired to get your exercise on, and suddenly, your bed is looking a lot more welcoming than the outdoors.

Not only are we more interested in going outdoors when it’s sunny out, we’re also much more likely to want to do anything (even if its just making it to your car or train to travel to class). Dr. Metzger tells us, “People are more likely to engage in physical activity when there is sunlight.” And when we’re exercising more, we’re generally feeling a whole lot happier.

While we can’t control the weather, we can push ourselves to workout even if the weather isn’t exactly cooperating. Even though the sun impacts our happiness level, so does exercising! Try a workout video at home if you aren’t feeling up to traveling, or remind yourself that traveling to class is NBD. Once you get there, you won’t regret it.  

It makes it easier to sleep at night

As ironic as this sounds, exposing ourselves to more sunlight can actually help us sleep better. And no, not just because long days of laying out on the beach make us sleepy (although it doesn’t hurt!) Dion says, “Sunlight exposure also helps to regulate our sleep cycles. Restful sleep lowers the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of anxiety, irritability and even sadness.” More sunshine = more sleep = more happiness. Now who can disagree with that equation? Sunshine here we come.

Stephanie Limiti is a born and raised New Yorker living out her dreams of palm trees and sunshine in Los Angeles. When she's not zenned out in yoga class, she's reading biographies and volunteering at dog rescue shelter. Follow her on Instagram.