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  • Alice Hsieh

Switch the lights on to end the blues

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

There are reasons not to be a fan of Xmas myself. No, I am not against the festivity. And no, I don't have any past trauma neither am a reincarnation of Scrooge. But how insanely the Xmas shopping is and its amount of waste generated in recent years seem not in harmony with the planet any longer. Ironically, this is year will be different. It is the year of the pandemic; and Covid-19 confinement will last, at least, for the entire Winter.

The idea of being restrained in the house, in the cold and having a few hours of sunlight could be daunting: able to give anyone the blues, not to mention the people who suffer from "seasonal affective disorder," or SAD. Nevertheless, the perspective of the Xmas can light us up, literally and metaphorically speaking. Adding colourful sparkles lifts the mood, warms the grey weather and makes us smile. I have no evidence-based stats to demonstrate the benefit of Xmas lights. Still, we all have experienced the changes in our mood once we enter our regular office with new Xmas decorations or the wow feel when seeing a lighting display. We can feel the joy, even if it's for the split of a second.

Colourful lights and bright sparkles are also used in other celebrations to signal happiness or special celebrations. In South Asia weddings, not only the party is decorated with glittering lights but also the family's houses typically cover the façades with a curtain of these sparkles.

The magic happens when the electromagnetic spectrum of light reaches the eye, converts into electrical signals to be sent straight to the brain so we can have an instant perception of the world outside of our body. Lights give us the vision.

Lights are in everywhere and part of our daily life, but why do we continuously marvel with the luminous glow? Firstly, there is a process of mental conditioning by associating a pleasant event with lights. Since our memory as a toddler can recollect, fairy lights in Xmas come with the enjoyment of receiving gifts, topped up with feasts. The glittering lights in weddings, for example, are related to the celebration of a union, party with lots of drinking and dancing. However, the opposite reaction can also work by association. Flashing red and blue lights can reflect the feel of danger and anxiety due to their adoption in police cars and ambulances worldwide. Our emotions are easily triggered by visual association.

Lights do spark us joy. Apart from Xmas light decorations, my recommendations are:


Introduce some decorative lights, such as uplights or indirect wall lights. Having extra lights will allow you to dim the ambient by switching off the main ones — common practice from bars or restaurants to produce a cosy and romantic atmosphere. You will then have the option to change the mood of the space, especially if you are spending a considerable time in the same room: well lit when working and dim lighting when relaxing.

Combination of different types of lighting in the restaurant: Floor lamps, ceiling uplights (indirect), coving lighting and direct spotlights.

The full brightness might induce alertness, but a long exposure cannot be abused. Supermarket lighting is an example of 'who wants to stay there longer than needed?'


Create shades by illuminating plants and large pieces of furniture from the ground or unusual angles. It is a form to distribute the light differently and define the silhouette of shadows, giving life to inanimate objects. The multiple shades happen similarly in the natural world, like shadows by the moonlight; therefore, the effect can bring back the sense of comfort. The toy industry has been using the same shadow technique in baby light projectors, gadgets that calm babies in the bedtime.

We are fascinated by the shadows, and, sometimes, they seem to have a life of their own.

Wendy had to sew Peter Pan's shadow back on.


Change the bulbs with different colour temperature. The easiest way to create a different ambient is to change the cool white light to warm light bulbs or the other way around. The bulb's temperature dictates your perception of colour, so it is like photoshopping your room with a new hue. Note that warmer lights are not as bright as cool white, so adding a table lamp on the working surfaces, desks, for example, can help to compensate the amount of light lost.

The colour temperature in Kelvin can be found on the light bulb or its packaging. This picture is a cruel but simple representation of the relationship between temperature and colour.

One thing is to endure being in the same space for a prolonged time, knowing there is somewhere else to retreat; another is to know there isn't. So spare some time to apply these new ideas before the blues kick in. Enable your room to switch to a different mood with the flip of a switch. And remember to keep your mental wellbeing well lit.

Photo Credits:

Restaurant Window by Michae Gaida from Pixabay.

Supermarket aisle by Oleg Magni from Pixabay.

Foliage shadow by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels


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