Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Let There Be Light

Wednesday of this week was the winter solstice – the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – when the earth is tilted as far away from the sun as possible. The sun’s path across the sky is the lowest it will be all year. From now till June, the amount of daylight steadily grows in the northern hemisphere while the opposite trend is happening in the southern hemisphere.

Light impacts our mental health and well-being in myriad ways. The risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder increases as daylight hours decrease, and light therapy is an effective treatment. Binge drinking and liver disease linked to alcohol use disorders are more common in colder, darker climates, and alcohol consumption declines as daylight hours increase. It is no wonder that precisely at the time of year when we have the shortest hours of daylight, our holidays – Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Diwali, and New Year’s – are celebrations of light. May the lights of the season bring you joy and health, and may these five quotes about light be worthy of your reflection.

1. “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.”  – (Augustine) Og Mandino (1923-1996). American Author whose books have been translated into 25 languages and sold over 50 million copies.

2. “The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them.” – Ida B. Wells (1862-1961). American journalist, educator, and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

3. “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen (1934-2016). Canadian singer-songwriter whose Hallelujah is one of the most famous and most frequently covered songs of all time. This verse is from Cohen’s song, Anthem.

4. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). Baptist minister and one of the most prominent American civil rights activists whose commitment to the cause cost him his life.

5. “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” – Mother Teresa (1910-1997). Indian-Albanian Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to serve the poorest communities in Calcutta.

Sunflowers follow the light. Trees grow towards the light. People reach for the light. Light allows us to see, provides energy for living creatures to grow, and has the potential to positively impact our mental health.  As you celebrate the holidays of the season, I wish you the joy of much light and a bright new year.

Picture of Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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