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By Lia Blanchard

John Denver said it best:

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

As humans, we love the sun. We need it. Without the sun our food does not grow, and we – along with all other life on Earth – die of starvation. Sunshine is our primary source of Vitamin D; our bodies produce it when skin is exposed to sunlight. A myriad of diseases and disorders have been linked to the lack of sunlight and the subsequent shortage of Vitamin D, including diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2), multiple sclerosis, and osteoporosis.

Of course, our individual needs and tolerances vary – even common houseplants have a great variety of sun exposure tolerances. But the basic essence of light is a fundamental need for human life.

Even the sun-worshippers among us know that there are limits. The recent sensation surrounding the “Tan Mom” in New Jersey demonstrates that excessive tanning – or “tanorexia” as it has come to be colloquially called – is not acceptable as healthy or as a standard of beauty.

Putting extremes aside, most healthy people enjoy some moderate time in the sun. Particularly in the spring, those in non-tropical latitudes revel in being able to be outdoors without bundling up; the sense of freedom and joy this brings has been expressed in human song, dance, and ritual since the dawn of time.

I have observed this in my own experience. Being born and raised in Hawaii, I grew up expecting the sun to shine almost every day. As an adult, I’ve lived in the hot, dry Great Plains and in the hot, moist Mid-Atlantic. There is a lot of sunshine in all three environments, but they are very different experiences.

I now reside in the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, where we average only 58 days of “sunny” weather per year. Believe me, when the sun comes out, the very air changes. People get outside in any way that they can, and everyone smiles. Children and adults play in the streets, families and couples hit the parks, beaches, trails and waterways in incredible numbers. The local news leads with several minutes of coverage of the manic mood, and even the newscasters are brighter and happier than usual. It’s amazing; perhaps because, around here, you never know how long it will last, or how long it will be until we’ll feel sunshine on our shoulders again.

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