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How Lighting Choices Can Affect Your Mood

Indoor light can have a powerful effect on the life you lead.

Key points

  • Natural light has the potential to enhance people’s mood, creativity, and cognitive performance.
  • Warm lighting can help create a cozy, social atmosphere, while cool lighting can help create an atmosphere for focus and concentration.
  • Placing warmer lighting in tabletop and floor lamps and cooler light overhead reflects how light appears in nature.

The neuroscience research is clear—some colors and intensities of light indoors create better atmospheres for particular situations while alternatives are found in settings where different sorts of thoughts and behaviors are most likely.

And sometimes darkness is wonderful. Think about being in a fragrant meadow on a moonlit night, for example, or trying to fall asleep after a long, long day. Most of our life is lived in light, however.

Natural light, daylight, is a sort of magic elixir that does great things for what goes on in our minds. It has a powerful, nearly primordial effect on our well-being. Glare-free natural light boosts our mood, creativity, and also our cognitive performance, for example. More positive moods are good things because, besides their obvious implications for how we go about our life, when we’re in a better mood, our ability to solve problems and get along with others, for example, improves, and all of that’s great for not only us but the world in which we live.

While it’s important to incorporate natural light into our lives, we should keep out its all too frequent companion–glare. Many window coverings, such as sheer curtains, let in natural light but cut glare. Careful use of shiny and highly polished surfaces can also help minimize glare. For instance, glare can be a problem on glossy floor tiles but may not be on matte ones under the same lighting conditions.

Artificial, generally electrical, light fills the gap when natural light is insufficient for whatever we’re up to, for whatever reason, at night, for example.

Circadian lighting systems project varying sorts of light throughout the day, light that changes in the ways that natural illumination does. That helps our bodies maintain their circadian rhythms, keep stress levels in check, and optimize well-being.

The color of artificial light indoors varies a lot. Light bulbs can be warmer or cooler, the “temperature” of the light from any particular bulb is usually marked on the package it comes in as warmer or cooler. For your home or office, you should choose bulbs that gently tone generally whitish light and not the garish red, blue, or green ones made with tinted bulbs that noticeably distort the colors of surfaces in a space. Halloween type bulbs can do particularly undesirable things to skin tones, all skin tones, stifling pleasant mingling—they are at the core of lots of really scary scenes!

Warm lights are great for creating a cozy, relaxing atmosphere, one where we have a good time socializing with other people and are apt to think more creatively, while cool lights are best for times when we need to feel alert or active and when we need to really concentrate. Do your taxes in cool light, write poetry and hang out with friends in warmer light. Dimmer lighting also is more relaxing and better for casual hanging out than brighter lights.

It can be handy to equip some lamps in a room with warmer light bulbs and some with cooler ones and to turn on either the warmer or the cooler set, depending on activities planned.

To reap their full benefits, put warmer light in tabletop and floor lamps and cooler light overhead, in ceiling mounted fixtures, for example. Warmer light generally is found lower in the natural world, at the horizon during sunrise and sunset, for example, while the sun overhead at noon is cool light.

Lighting, natural and artificial, has an important influence on how we think and feel in the rooms we use throughout the day. Design needs to support a variety of different lighting options to boost our well-being.

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