Sunshine makes people happy, but what happens when the sun is hiding away for months? Could a lamp makes us smile again? A lamp?!
Being deeply melancholic, having huge troubles escaping from the embrace of the bed in the morning and feeling like a close relative to Grumpy cat. This is a brief description of the mood you can easily catch in wintertime Tromsø, if you don’t pay enough attention. Don’t blame yourself, as the great darkness is already here, the lack of sun is affecting our mood more than we would like to admit. And still, as you are drinking your seventh coffee for the day, hating the world and unsuccessfully trying to focus on something – you see those full of energy people, who are waking up at 7 in the morning, smiling and socializing as they are living in another part of the planet. How are they so full of energy? How come they are so happy and full of life, when you can barely motivate at all?
The magical recipe?
The truth is that there is no magical recipe for happiness in the wintertime. In the same time, psychologists are positive that sun and pleasant weather improves considerably mood, creativity and focus. In the long dark period, the University of Tromsø is proposing a warm, cozy place for all students in need, a place of light – The Solar café. Each morning from 8:30h to 11h you can grab a cup of coffee and a cookie and sit in a room full of daylight lamps. They say that one hour is enough to put a smile on your face. But how bizarre could it be – a lamp that substitutes the sun? It sounds so odd to go and praise the lamp, while waiting for a mood improving miracle. Even though many say that «going to the lamps» is really helping them, it may sound like a huge placebo effect. Utropia decided to take a closer look and spread some light over the topic.
Talking purely scientifically, the sunlight is directly dealing with human body and especially our hormones. The production of melatonin is released in the blood only in darkness. This is the hormone that makes us sleepy, so in the pure dark winter, there is some extra sleepiness we accumulate, since the sun isn’t rising. On the other hand, the light provokes the creation of serotonin, also known as the happiness hormone. Therefore – as there is no direct sun light – the good mood is much more difficult to find. Let’s sum up – for the long months of dark cold Tromsø winter we are likely to become sleepy non-concentrate, moody and unhappy, only because our body misses the sun. The bright lights simulate daylight, and compensates the lack of sunlight. A normal light bulb creates illuminant amount of not more than 500 lux, and the daylight lamp goes up to 10 000 lux. The effect results from the retina receiving the light that is stimulating the nervous system and makes the body deal with the hormone level.
The Sun people in the campus
Many students are going regularly to the Solar café. As they spread the word about the greatness of the place, the Norwegian students gave them a nickname – «the Sun people». After going to the lamps several times, it is easy to spot familiar people who are often there. Being ever curious, Utropia met one of the students that starts the day with the daylight lamps. We asked the extremely sunny Canadian Elise Escaravage some questions about her Solar café experiences.
U: Is this your first ever winter in Tromsø?
E: Yes, and the first months were rough, but now when it is completely darkness time I don’t feel it that rough at all. It is maybe the lamps, maybe something else, but now it is nice.
U: How did you know about the Solar café in the first place?
E: It was my flat mate who told me. I told him that I couldn’t wake up, I started to feel sad, I didn’t want to do sports anymore and I could stay in my room for hours. He said «You should check out the lamps, that is the solution to everything!» So I went there for the first time, but I didn’t really feel any effect. It started afterwards, and it became a habit to wake up early in the morning and go there.
U: Were you skeptical about the idea?
E: I though it’s going to be just a lamp, and it felt fake. Also, in the beginning, not a lot of people were coming, and they were not talking much to each other, so I felt like an alien, coming to sit in front of a plastic. But it was funny, I made it a part of my «Tromsø experience».
U: Do you see more familiar people here now?
E: Definitely! I mostly go because I know it is going to be my social time of the day, and when I leave the place I’m always super happy, because I had a coffee with people and it was nice meeting those people here. It helps me to focus through the day.
U: How often are you going in the week?
E: I try to go every day. I sometimes skip 1 or 2 days. I don’t know if the difference is that you are watching the lamp, or it is just the habit to go there early in the morning, but I have energy and it makes a big difference for me. I don’t feel the darkness so much now.
Text and photo: Boyka Todorova