Sunlight is Medicine

The science is clear: Making your bed in the morning makes you happier and more productive.

Why? In addition to giving you a small boost of satisfaction, it also creates a small space of order in our home.

If you visit Chipotle, you’ll find a different kind of order: bright, fluorescent lights; uncomfortable chairs; and metal tables. These are not accidents — they are carefully considered choices to alter your behavior.

They want you to leave as soon as you’re done eating.

Unlike your local coffee shop, which might even have a couch or two, Chipotle’s business model doesn’t depend on perks like free wi-fi to lure you in. Their business is serving as many people per hour as possible. Sure, the coffee shop wants to do that too, but the reasons you go there are different.

Our environments affect our behavior, how we feel, and more.

Here’s another example: Hospitals aren’t known for their interior design, but studies show we should care much more about it. Here are the results from one such study:

Twenty-three surgical patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses' notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall.

That’s a small sample size — too small to draw conclusions from. But results like these show up over and over again:

Patients with bipolar disorder spent four days less in the hospital on average when they were assigned east-facing rooms that captured morning sunlight, according to an investigation conducted by neuropsychiatric doctors in Italy. Whereas in Sweden, an architect renovated a neonatal critical care unit in a hospital after shadowing the employees. Premature newborns' hospital stays were significantly reduced once the program was implemented.

In a study of aggressive patients, doctors found that patients whose rooms had posters displaying views of nature had 70 percent fewer sedative injections than those whose rooms had blank walls.

Anyone who’s walked outside and noticed their mood improve knows that nature is good for us. Green makes us calmer — it's why actors prepare for their performances in a "green room."

But the results of these studies suggest something much more profound: The space around us, when thoughtfully designed, contributes to our healing. Sunlight is medicine.

Our environment physically shapes us. Or as Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us."


Reflections on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
Email address