But, can it really? A play on words of the often repeated phrase "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," could a flower a day be enough to lift some out of depression or keep others from needing antidepressant medication? Researchers at Rutgers University think so. As first reported in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology in 2005, researchers demonstrated scientifically what we intuitively already know: that flowers make us happy.
The research showed that flowers are indeed a natural mood elevator, that they decrease stress levels, and improve emotional health. Moreover, results revealed that the benefits were not only immediate or when one was in the presence of the flowers. Improved mood, emotional reactions, social behavior, and memory were also demonstrated to be longer term effects.
Is it just a coincidence, then, that the growth of new plants and flowers that accompanies the lifting of winter signals another phenomenon that we also intuitively know: that of "spring fever?" We have long known of seasonal mood variations that affect us. An example you're likely aware of is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a depressive mood disorder affecting up to 10% of the population in the winter months.
While scientifically demonstrating the effects of "spring fever" has been more elusive, our intuition tells us it's real, just as it tells us the "flower effect" and SAD are real. The feeling of euphoria is likely due to the complex interrelationships of our circadian rhythms (our biological clock), the amount of natural light we are exposed to, and hormones produced in our bodies in response to these (and other) factors.
Hopefully you're recognizing that a number of things can potentially improve our moods that don't necessarily involve taking medications. We've touched on the positive effects of flowers already. We know there are complex changes that accompany the lifting of winter and arrival of spring. For those who suffer from SAD, we know that the use of light therapy can ease depressive symptoms. Other non-pharmacological treatments that have been demonstrated to positively affect mood and ease depressive symptoms include laugh therapy, regular exercise, and appropriate amounts of sleep (approximately 8 hours for adults). Many of these seem remarkably similar to the simple advice our grandparents used to give us!
So, we know our moods are complex, but they can be positively affected by some of the simplest things in life: flowers! Treat yourself (and someone else while you're at it) to fresh flowers. Place them in a location where you will have repeated exposure on a daily basis, such as your kitchen counter or your desk at work. Add in the other low-cost (or no cost), low-tech interventions discussed above and you should be well on your way to an enhanced sense of well-being.
Source: Haviland-Jones J, Rosario HH, Wilson P, McGuire TR. 2005. An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers. J Evol Psychol. (3): 104-132.