Time to put a Spring in our (socially distanced) step, Melbourne

Did you know people tend to tip more when the sun's out? Or that the stock market may produce better daily returns? Even love appears to have a better chance of flourishing in spring sunshine than winter gloom.

The point? Hang in there, Melbourne: spring begins on Tuesday and there's cause to be (cautiously) optimistic.

COVID-19 cases are declining – 94 on Saturday. The Andrews government is formulating a strategy out of our stage four prisons. Schools are on track to reopen in term four.

Benoit and Aurelie Le Bourdon enjoy Saturday’s bright turn at St Kilda with children Gabriel,3, and Joaquin,2.Credit:Chris Hopkins

And as the cases come down, here comes the sun.

While changes in the weather have long been associated with changes of mood, University of Melbourne Professor of psychology Nick Haslam says there is data to back it up. Some of it tenuous, he says, but there is enough around to link sunshine and positive mood, so let's take what we can.

Of the more curious research, he points to a US study that found diners in Minnesota were more likely to leave better tips for waitstaff when the sun was shining.

In 2013, French researchers set loose a brave Romeo to approach unaccompanied young women and ask for their phone numbers.

His success rate on sunny days was 22 per cent. On cloudy days? 14 per cent.

The biological basis to our happier dispositions is believed the production of vitamin D when sunlight hits out skin. This promotes the brain's production of serotonin, a chemical that can make us feel happy.

There is also speculation among scientists, though far from conclusive, that the spread of COVID-19 is inhibited in warmer months. Another reason, perhaps, to look forward to spring.

While Melburnians must continue to follow the COVID-19 rules that are giving us a chance at a more enjoyable spring and summer, we should afford ourselves some positivity, says therapist Melanie Schilling.

"Let's use the start of spring as a line in the sand representing that maybe we’re through the hardest part," she says.

Ms Schilling recommended setting a reminder note in our phones for the start of spring or writing with lipstick on the mirror, "It's spring and it’s a new beginning" – a tangible reminder that things can and should get better.

"Flowing on from that, it’s such a good opportunity for Melburnians to say ‘Now I’m going to focus on the future. Maybe I'll start thinking about that holiday. Maybe I’ll start thinking about a different career path. Maybe I’ll put myself out there and start doing some online and video dating'.

"I’d love this to be an opportunity for people to throw off the winter shackles and start to transition into the next phase, which is about possibility rather than restriction."

For Benoit Le Bourdon and his wife Aurelie, who have been managing stage four restrictions with Gabriel, 3, and Joaquin, 2, the brighter weather can't come soon enough.

"We are really waiting for the spring and summer. And the Melbourne spring and summer is just perfect," says Mr Le Bourdon, a systems engineer who moved his family from France about 15 months ago.

"It will be a relief for us to go out with the kids in good weather and maybe eat lunch outside.

"We are just happy to be here [or stage four]. In Paris, it would have been a nightmare in our small apartment. We have a house here, so we are very lucky."

Of course, there are caveats. Professor Haslam says our happier mood in gentle, sunny conditions can be linked to the prospect of being social and doing fun things outdoors – all strictly limited under our current stage four restrictions.

But we still have our hour. Besides, he says, if we keep doing the right thing and stage four restrictions ease in a fortnight, we may have more of spring to enjoy.

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