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why i need to live in the sunshine…



You guys…the saddest thing happened during my first week in France. Three days into the trip, Bob and I were about to go to bed, and I started bawling—terrible, awful, sad tears. I honestly felt depressed and not happy to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I wondered how I could be so ungrateful to have the chance to travel with my family like this and not enjoy every moment of it. And then I realized…

…the seasonal affective disorder I had while living on the East Coast was back. It was raining and gloomy in France during our first week there, and my body and my brain needed sunshine. Although I'm from the East Coast and lived with the change in seasons most of my life, a part of me changed forever once we moved to Southern California four years ago. I no longer dreaded winter. I no longer became a meaner version of myself every year November to April. I feel like I really came into my true self thanks to all the sunshine. It's amazing how your brain just knows.

Anyway, I'm sharing this because I don't have a kind of depression that is treated with drugs, but the less-talked-about kind that is treated with sunshine. The last year I lived in Philly, I used this HappyLite in the winter, and it worked wonders. Not everyone can have sunshine year-round, so sometimes you just have to bring the sunshine to you. Later that week in France, the weather perked up, the sun peaked out from the clouds, and I slowly began to feel like myself again. I really enjoyed the last half of our trip and got to see how beautiful our surroundings really were.


  1. Oh I get that to. Living in Australia and studying in Sweden on exchange last year. As much as I love Sweden, i did get grumpy and sad. The sun is not only weaker but when it’s only light out from 9-10am and pitch black before 4pm, not to mention it’s usually overcast or raining (or snowing!), it gets to you a bit. We even had a’Sun room at the university to help the international students out.
    Just giving you some support and encouragement from a fellow sufferer from Sydney. ♥

  2. Hi Joy — Thanks for posting this! I just moved back to the East Coast for a year after living in L.A. for three years, and though I never really had SAD before, I definitely do now! It’s really, really, really hard to go without sunshine, and I am counting down the days until I can move back to the place that I really call home!

  3. I live on the East Cost and I totally get that sad feeling. As you know it is often rainy and cloudy here. When the sunshine comes I am a different person. I thought of this recently and I was wondering if the West Cost is calling my name.
    To fight it I take some extra vitamin D, acknowledge the situation and try to take it easy that day. 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing this – I’ve been thinking about it a lot as the winter approaches. I love having the four distinct seasons. Well, I love having the three distinct seasons. Winter is rough for me. We got a happy light and that made a difference, but a trip to see my family in Hawaii in November and another to Puerto Rico in February were my saving graces. It just means a whole lot of budgeting for the rest of the year!

  5. Oh man, I do envy the sunshine you guys get all year round! I don’t think I suffer from SAD but the winter definitely effects my mood, it’s just turned cold in London and I’m in a bit of a grump – dreading having to wake up in the dark again. Think I need to get a sunrise alarm clock thingy this year!

  6. Yup I have been there. I grew up in the Caribbean island and when I went to college at Syracuse the biggest shock was not the amount of snow it was the lack of sun. I didn’t realized how much the sunshine made a difference not only in my mood but also in other aspects in my life.
    I still live in the east coast but over the past years I had made big shifts to change my lifestyle to help me cope with SAD.

  7. I love that you’re sharing this! Thank you for the honesty and venerability, Joy. I actually love the gloom during the fall (it helps me get more into the mood of the season), but can’t stand the cold that winter brings! It definitely brings me down. I’m glad you’ve ended up in a place that has lots of warmth and sunshine!

  8. Joy! I’m exactly the same way and I’ve lived in rainy Oregon almost my whole life – I’ll have to try the light!!!
    Can you tell me where you got your adorabled black and white striped sweater?

  9. I totally understand what you mean about living in sunshine. I love warm, sunny days. Winter is really hard to deal with, but I try. I realize as I’m older now that living somewhere warm and nice is really ideal.
    I guess you just have to make the best of it wherever you are.

  10. Oh man me too! I’m a so cal girl through and through – living in foggy San Francisco. While I do really love it here, moths of gloom totally get to me. Glad you’re feeling better – xo!

  11. Same here Joy. I am a Caribbean girl and winters are very hard for me in France. Sadly this year even the Fall is already dark and damp. I promised myself last year that I would get a HappyLite this year, so thanks for the reminder!

  12. I’m a California girl too, and moved to NJ a year ago. We lived in the east for 10 years during the 80s and 90s, and totally suffered from SAD. Last year, the first year after 18 years in the California sunshine was particularly rough for me. However, I find that the hardest thing isn’t really the gloom and lack of sunshine (although that’s part of it), but it’s the total lack of green. I ache for green leaves. I wonder if I would feel the same way if I lived in the piney woods, where the evergreen trees stayed green all year long? I have no idea, but I’m gearing up for a very SAD winter here on the east coast.

  13. During college (in Ohio) I would get SAD. Supplementing Vitamin D took care of it for me. Seems to be a popular approach–I lived in Chicago for a few years and now in Philly, and in the fall Trader Joe’s in both cities can never keep Vitamin D on the shelves!

  14. SAD is such a real thing. Once I realized I had it, I didn’t feel as crazy. My HappyLite is the way I survive winters in Amsterdam. Plus double amounts of vitamin D, and running even in the dark mornings or afternoon….and I try to take one trip to the sunshine somewhere each winter 🙂

  15. Thanks for sharing, Joy. Having moved from Santa Barbara to Seattle six years ago (time flies!), I definitely feel the effect of SAD as fall rolls around. Luckily, I lived with an extremely happy dog when I first moved to Seattle. I didn’t realized how much pet therapy helped my transition from sunny SoCal to gloomy Seattle. Now that I don’t live with a dog, I get my fix from petting my friends’ dogs/cats. Have thought about the HappyLite also but playing with dogs and cats is just more fun!

  16. oh…. this post made me….truly sad. I live in Poland (Eastern Europe)where less than half of the year is sunny and warm (if you’re lucky). Last year we had the first snow fall in the end of Oct. and winter snow melted away in May. As I get older I crave for sunshine more and more and get angry at myself about all that weather grumbling I do every year. Maybe it’s not my ungrateful self but a SAD case…do not know…

  17. I totally had this when I moved to Baltimore for school (OMG almost 10 years ago, eek!). My hubby (then awesome boyfriend) bought me a light box too (much uglier and more old school than yours). Since, I’ve come home to LA (and relocated the hubs, for which I’m 100% certain he’s happier). I LOVE your blog btw – just had a little girl of my own, and from the bday parties to decor, I’m a fan of yours for LIFE!

  18. I use a high spectrum light also and recently bought one for a friend who was always gloomy on the cloudy days. We swear by it!

  19. I truly understand you! here in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we have the 4 seasons, but normally we have many many sunny days in all the seasons. And we all get bad when we have a 4-day-rainy time…

  20. yikes I guess that might explain why I dread winter and get super miserable and depressed during the cold months, especially when it’s january and I feel like I’ve had enough of it all! I grew up in tropical south east asia, so the east coast winters these past three years have been tough on me. I definitely need to look into this!

  21. I’m totally with you. We had that light too in San Francisco (fog central!). And it really does help. But that’s why I also know I have to stay in SoCal too (or somewhere equally sunny). Whenever Fred Baby talks about moving to Europe some day, I instantly imagine grey and say no way. Isn’t that terrible?
    I even had a similar moment in Greece in September, though that was less about the sunshine and more about how much colder it was than I had imagined in my head that it would be. Anyway, glad you figured it out and were able to enjoy that rest of the trip.

  22. Thank you for sharing your experience. I was just sitting here feeling unusually weepy and a bit irritable and had been wondering if it might be this cold and gray Pacific NW day. This time of year, I often find myself dreaming of relocating to Jamaica or Southern California for the warmth and light so I am looking up the HappyLite right now!

  23. I’ve definitely been a SAD sufferer all my life, and it’s already starting for me this year as the days are getting shorter. (Not to mention that 2 years of living in Miami in my early 20s ruined me for colder weather forever.) I mostly despise leaving for work in the dark and returning home in the dark. Products like this always strike me as silly or privileged I guess, but maybe I should try it. The dread in my heart for the impending winter makes me believe I should probably do something.

  24. I struggle with this big time. Being in upstate NY during college was the hardest. I now use a light each year but even now as the days are only beginning to grow shorter, I’m starting to struggle.

  25. I am SO glad you wrote this post. I had just thought about this light, had never contemplated it before since I was a flight attendant I am always travel to sunshine. Now I dread New England winters. This crossed my path the other day and you were a confirmation that I need it. Lord knows I have been mounting a secret campaign to try to get my family back to Southern CA! I got terribly spoiled out there. When I miss it I just picture myself in traffic on the freeway in LA to try to keep in perspective!

  26. I always wondered why so many great thinkers and philosophers are German, but now after living one year here I understand. Rain and the cold can really make a huge difference in your emotions and I so understand what you mean. I live next to the house where great thinker Hegel was born, so can’t argue about how damp and depressing the weather can be.

  27. i can so, so, so relate to this! i grew up down south and lived in columbus, oh and it was rough. i still think i’m recovering from some of the long term effects. we live in the sunshine state now! florida! i feel like myself again for the first time in a long time.

  28. That is the one good thing about living in New Mexico…sunshine ALL THE TIME! I’m a PacNW girl, but the years the military has brought us to NM, I have definitely been grateful for the ever-present Vitamin D :).

  29. I totally get you. I live in Seattle and I instantly feel my mood perk up when a sunny day appears during the long winter of cold, rainy, gray days. I also live in a basement room where there is minimal light and I always have my lamp on… it’s terrible!

  30. So relatable. I lived in Europe my whole life. We get good summers, but nothing like Australia. When I moved to Australia man did my attitude and energy change, and I’ve always put it down to the sun. Sunshine is happiness.

  31. Thank you! My own SAD treatment lamp is 20 years old and I’ve been thinking it’s time to replace it but didn’t know what to get – really appreciate the recommendation!

  32. Also remember what jet lag can do. Our 5th grade son spent 4 weeks in Amiens as the culmination of a 6 year French immersion program. The low point was about 7 days in when he was distraught. Then a couple of days later he felt perfectly fine and loved the rest of the trip. Our last trip to Paris was just a few days after our daughter graduated from high school, and we took things a little slower so she could get her bearings. We had a family “A Ha” moment over French pastries, where we all came to the realization that she had successfully completed high school and was actually prepared to make the college leap. We might have had that moment at home, but how much better to have it in Paris!

  33. I totally know what you mean I have traveled to cities where overcast and gloom is the norm and it definitely effects you.
    So grateful for sunshine, thanks for posting about this and sharing the link to the light 🙂

  34. I am in Seattle. Which rains pretty much all the time. It’s fall now where it’s beautiful but am dreading the winter season ahead. Everything is gloomy and wet. 🙁

  35. Thanks for sharing! I get this too, although not as badly now. I moved to London from Virginia / South Carolina, and the winter was a HUGE shock to the system.
    But I’ve actually learned to deal with it myself (ie no light) – I focus on all of the great things about London in the winter (mulled wine, big roast dinners, people in the holiday spirit) and look forward to the great things about this city in the summer (loooooong days, beer gardens, and truly perfect summer days). When I started changing my thinking, I didn’t believe it would work – I thought it was just something I had to try to say I tried and that I’d forever have to have a light at my desk… But it did!
    I’m sure everybody is different, but it’s amazing what you can achieve when you set your mind to it, as the saying goes.

  36. Oh Joy, i totally understand you! I’m Finnish, so I’ve lived in Finland for all my life, and already in the middle of october it’s dark from 7 pm to 7 am. And it gets worse and worse every day.. In winter time i barely see the sun at all, because during the day i’m in school.
    But I hope you find your sunshine, and i know you will. 🙂 try to see the dark days without the sun as a time to relax. When the sun goes away, you’ll have the most perfect time to calm down with your thoughts instead of fussing around. And if it gets really dark, eat vitamin d, drink hot chocolate, have some warming food (curry<3) and light up some candles. Works for me, and Finnish weather reeeeally gets me down sometimes 😀 I believe that there's a time for being super energetic and a time for calming down a bit. You need them both.

  37. This exact same thing happened to me last year! We saved and planned for our two week trip to Europe for over a year and then it rained almost the entire time. I kept trying to snap out of it, but I was so depressed and burst into tears a few times (once in very dramatic fashion in front of the Louvre). Those feelings are very real! Maybe next time I’ll pack a travel sunshine light just in case!

  38. Oh my, I never had SAD when I lived on the east coast where I grew up. In fact when I first heard the term I thought it was another excuse for well fed pampered westerners (ie not being from the third world) to whine. Then I moved to the west coast…Seattle and was like “oh” so it IS real. The NYC/Philly area is a bouncing ball of joyous sunshine compared to Seattle. Only go there in summer if 3 days of rain effects you if you had to be there for any length of time you would seriously lose it. After 12 years I could not deal anymore and moved back to NY.

  39. Hi Jo, I am living in a mountain village (in Czech Republic), having 6 to 7 months lasting snowy/icy winter. I use your blog to lighten my world through some decorative tips. For example, I would never say that I will want something gold in my house/wardrobe as I do want now. Thank you.

  40. Me too! Well I am a Texas transplant currently living in Ohio. I didn’t even know my Vitamin D levels were low. I had to make myself go out, foggy brain and tearful too. I now take a bi-weekly supplement of prescribed Vitamin D, the difference is amazing. Thanks for mentioning this.

  41. oh man, I totally suffered from SAD when I lived in Boulder, CO. The weather, for me, was just dreadful! Snow that started in September went clear through May! After 11 months we packed up our stuff and headed back to the South. I have been happy ever since!!

  42. As an Australian I completely get that. We take sunshine for granted but it absolutely makes a difference to your mindset and well bring. It is a real form of depression but I am glad you are happier.

  43. I understand where you are coming from. I had a girlfriend who had this condition and had a sunlamp at home for the winter months. She lived at the pool from the moment it opened until the end of the season. Not the same as your issue, but in the midwest, the seasons change for good and bad. I, too, love the sunshine and am a different person when it’s present. It’s even a part of my blogname as I look for sunshine in other places.
    Your little girl is so beautiful and often reminds me of my daughter when she was a toddler —

  44. As a fellow Philly girl, I totally get it. I love the changing of seasons, picking apples, running through the crunch autumn leaves, but I also brace myself for the impending doom of winter. I hate the cold, but more than anything it’s the lack of sunshine. There’s something really depressing about going to work when it’s dark, and leaving as it gets dark again. I’ve thought about a happy light in the past, this year I need to make it a reality. Thanks for the reminder!

  45. I’ve struggled with SAD for many years always taking vitamin D, getting as much light as possible and exercising regularly with minimal results. But last year I had a doctor advise me that I needed to break a good sweat when exercising to really impact the SAD. Which isn’t always easy to do in the middle of winter. She was correct. Now that I am conscientious of this it’s the one thing that truly helps me manage this.

  46. funny, i just wrote a post about this, too. ten years strong and still fighting… also, practically living in canada, so you can imagine the snow, which means you can imagine the clouds, which means… well, no sunshine. anyhow, i get it. my husband calls it ‘sad’ emily.

  47. Since moving to England I have invested in a Lumie light! I put it on in the morning when I have my breakfast & tea. I have found it really helps me get through the dark days. I wish I had my Lumie when I lived in Seattle. Everyone should have one for the winter time! Great post – this should be talked about more.

  48. Hi Joy, thanks for this recommendation, I will need to invest in a Lumie! In some ways your post made me feel a little relieved. I live on an island at the very north of Scotland, so we get very long bright summers (playing football outside at midnight!) but very long dark winters and it feels like you spend 6 months in pitch darkness. It’s silly but I will often think I’m being weak in character for letting it affect me, or that someone who is such a strong person, like yourself wouldn’t let these external things get to them, but I suppose it’s not possible , it’s just human. Thanks for talking about this.


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