“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bring Your Own Sunshine

Think about this: You wake up one Saturday morning, the sun is shining brightly, the birds are chirping. You jump out of bed have breakfast and are energized to get out and experience the day. Maybe you go for a hike, or run your errands, or head to the gym. However you decide to spend it, the day seems bright. What if, however, when you wake up, the sun is behind the clouds, the sky is gray and the birds are quiet? How would you begin your day under those circumstances? Have you ever noticed the influence that the weather has on a day? It not only affects the atmosphere itself, but it impacts our energy and motivation levels, our moods and the choices we make.

Of course, there are certain things that we simply wouldn’t do in certain weather, like have a picnic in the pouring rain or swim in the pool while it’s snowing. I notice a huge difference in the number of pedestrians and the amount of traffic on the streets on a sunny Saturday morning versus one that’s cloudy. And on a bad weather day, I often wonder what sort of activity would be happening around me if the sun were shining.

Sometimes it's just a matter of a day or two where the weather may get us down, but prolonged exposure to greyness can have profound effects. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real disorder caused by lack of sunlight that takes on the symptoms of depression that is common in the long, winter months. But there was a study published in the journal Behavior Therapy by University of Vermont psychologist Kelly Rohan, Ph.D., that a combination of light therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to alleviate SAD with an 80% success rate versus only 50% for either therapy alone. And in another study, she observed that one year later, almost 37% of those individuals who were treated only with light therapy again suffered from symptoms of SAD (you can read a bit more about it here: CBT is the practice of observing and changing our own thought patterns and is something I commonly use through positive affirmation, visualization techniques and meditation and is a powerful way to eliminate negative thoughts. So much of the worlds we create for ourselves do begin in our minds and if we want lives filled with joy and happiness, then they must originate from within. There is nothing on the outside that will fulfill us the way inner strength and self-love will. It is only when these things are in place that our outer worlds will take on real meaning for us.

So back to the weather, if we have strong inner worlds, then the weather on any given day should not determine how we show up for life. On a recent rainy day, I took a hike up to a castle at Sleeping Giant Park near my home. Except for wet feet : ) it turned out to be a very peaceful and calming experience and when I got to the top of the castle, I felt energized and was happy to listen without distractions to the sound of the raindrops hitting my umbrella and the trees. A little while later, I was joined by a gentleman named Patrick who was also enjoying the rain and who has a very healthy attitude about the control we have over our thoughts. You can meet him here in this video:

He is the Treasurer of the New Haven Hiking Club, an organization that actually takes advantage of the weather (except the rain!) to add some diversity into their exercise schedule and social routine. They get together to hike, bike, snowshoe and cross country ski. Their bike ride scheduled for that day had been cancelled because of the rain, so Patrick decided to hike up to the castle to enjoy the clean air while it poured. I found it very refreshing to talk with him and to hear from someone that truly does not let the weather “get” to him. Instead of wishing for something else, he embraces the moments he has and knows that he is responsible for whether or not he enjoys life. And from my conversation with him, it sounds like he genuinely does.

So whatever the weather when you wake up in the morning, be thankful for the day, put some sunshine in your pocket and make the most of it because you can’t get it back to redo when it’s over. That doesn’t mean deliberately go outside and slosh around in the puddles in your work clothes or get into your car during a blizzard. Just try not to allow the weather to make you forget that every day is a blessing and a gift. And one that you should celebrate now...

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