Lighting Up Your Life

Lighting, natural and artificial, affects how we think and behave.

Posted Nov 03, 2019

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.

And there’s a lot more to effective, science-informed indoor lighting than just switching on any old fixture.

Some of the most psychologically powerful light we can experience is not turned on and off by a switch at all but is regulated by the path of the Earth around the Sun. The natural light that’s found its way indoors has an important and powerful effect on how we humans think and behave. Glare-free natural light boosts our mood, our creativity, and also our cognitive performance, for example. More positive moods are good things because, besides their obvious implications for wellbeing, 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–the glare. Many window coverings, such as sheer curtains, let in natural light but cut glare. Careful use of shiny surfaces can also help minimize glare. For instance, glare can be a problem on shiny floor tiles but may not be on matte ones under the same lighting conditions.

Circadian lighting systems, which help the body maintain its circadian rhythms, also help keep stress levels in check and optimize wellbeing. The Lighting Research Center at Rennselaer Polytechnic is an excellent source of information on circadian lighting, you can find more information at https://www.lrc.rpi.edu

The color of artificial light we find 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 or blue or green or any other colored ones that noticeably distort the colors of surfaces in a space. 

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 and when we need to really concentrate. Do your taxes in cool light, write poetry and hang out with friends in warmer light. 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. Dimmer lighting also is more relaxing and better for casual hanging out than brighter lights.

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 wellbeing.