Why you shouldn’t buy a light therapy device from Costco (how to find a good light therapy device)

Here in Portland, up to 20-30% of the population suffers from decreased mood and fatigue during the dark and cloudy days of winter. This has been called the “winter blues” and more serious variants of this are typically called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  By a long shot, the most well researched and effective treatment for this kind of seasonal depression is light therapy. Light therapy is fairly simple and typically involves sitting in front of a special kind of light every morning. It works really well and most people respond within in two weeks of beginning the treatment. If you have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or the “Winter Blues” you should seriously consider getting light therapy device.

Unfortunately, the manufacture and sale of light therapy devices is completely unregulated by the government. This means that there are a lot of people out there buying devices which are not effective and who may end up concluding that light therapy does not work for them, when actually they bought a poorly-made device. It’s not easy to tell scam light therapy devices from legitimate ones, but below I’ll give you some tips that might help.

Typically, a good light therapy device is a little expensive. If someone is selling you a broad spectrum light therapy device for under $150, you should probably be suspicious (though there are some exceptions). It’s likely that it has not been manufactured to the standards used in the research studies and could be ineffective or potentially dangerous for your vision. Tested devices are typically 10,000 lux (a measure of intensity) and should say something about being “broad spectrum” and have shielding from harmful “UV rays.” It’s the UV rays that are put off by fluorescent lights that can harm your eyes.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest sellers of questionable light therapy devices is Costco. I was at Costco the other day and was able to take some shots of the product they are selling:

It would be hard to tell why this device won’t work, unless you know a bit about light therapy devices and also look at the small print below:

Fortunately, they actually specify how much light it is emitting so that you can tell that it won’t work. The light above only provides 4,500 lux at 6 inches from your eyes. A well manufactured device provides 10,000 lux at a comfortable distance (typically 12-24 inches). Who would ever sit with a light only six inches from their eyes? And even if they did, it would still not be strong enough to be effective without spending a lot of time in front of it. If you spend your money on this device, it’s wasted.

So my bottom line recommendation is DO NOT BUY THIS DEVICE. It will not work.

If you would like some advice on products that are worth the investment, here are two recommendations:

#1 – Carex Daylight classic

This device is probably the best one available on a consumer website like Amazon. The benefits are that it is up on a stand, which makes it more likely that the light will be positioned above your eyes, which is key for light  therapy to work. The downside is that the device needs to be about 12″ away from your eyes to be at the recommended 10,000 Lux that has been used in studies. If you carefully follow the directions, and sit with it relatively close to you, then most people get good benefits. This is the device suggested by the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, which is a non-profit dedicated to making light therapy more accessible.

#2 – Philips goLITE BLU 

Like the other light by Phillips, this is a quality product but at a more affordable price tag.  An additional bonus is that this product is better suited for packing up and taking with you. This light is based on newer research about the how blue light affects our eyes and circadian rhythms. It’s not quite as proven as the broad spectrum light above, but is a good alternative to the brighter, white lights if those bother your eyes or you want to try something more portable. Just make sure when you are using it that you are looking at something below the light (the light needs to hit your eyes from above).

Update: Don’t be fooled. Costco continues to sell the Verilux light above, but with a new name. The box for the new light says it’s a bit brighter, but still needs to be 6 inches from your eyes to work. That’s an impractical distance for most people. Don’t buy it. The new name for the questionable device is the “Verilux Happylight Liberty.” Given the poor track record of this company, I’d consider this new device similarly questionable. Avoid it. 

If you’d like some suggestions on other light therapy devices, or general info about SAD, click here.

Spoiler Alert: Spoilers Don’t Spoil

Have you ever had the experience of learning the ending of a book, movie, or TV show that you had really wanted to read/watch and saying to yourself, “AARGH—it’s ruined for me!”?

In college, I tried to be very careful about reading the introductions to classic literature. I found out the hard way that the people who write the introductions often presume the reader is already familiar with the work. Inadvertently, I’d learn key plots points—sometimes the ending—before I had even started the book.

At the time, I figured that knowing the ending would detract from my enjoyment of the book.

It turns out, I was wrong.

Researchers Find That Knowing Key Plot Twists Enhances Enjoyment of Respected Books

According to Science Daily, two researchers at the University of California – San Diego ran a series of experiments looking at how knowing the ending of a story in advance effects how much people enjoy it. The researchers used short stories by well-known authors such as Agatha Christie, John Updike, and Raymond Carver. Everyone was given a story to read in one of three ways: 1.) Some people simply read the story; 2.) Others were given a paragraph to read that gave away the ending (the spoiler) prior to reading the story; 3.) and for others, the ending was given away during the story rather than before.

People for whom the story was “spoiled” reported enjoying the story more. Not only did knowing the ending in advance not ruin enjoyment of the story, but spoiling the story appeared to enhance it! It didn’t matter whether the story was a literary work, a mystery, or something with an ironic-twist (e.g., surprise) ending.


The researchers suggest that well-written stories are enjoyable regardless of what we know about them. When we know the ending, we can pay more attention to other elements. Given that the stories were by respected authors, it would be interesting to know if the same results are true for less skilled writers.

Next time a work of fiction is “spoiled” for me, rather than respond with “AARGH!” perhaps I ought to say, “Thank you—now I’ll enjoy it even more.”

The Power of Storytelling: Charlene Strong’s Story of Transformation

I love stories. A great storyteller can transport you to places you have never been, can touch a place within you that seemed lost, or can inspire you in ways you might never guess.. A great story can take you on a journey but also reminds you of what is important in your life right now. My favorite place for great storytelling is an organization called The Moth. The Moth is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. They sponsor a free podcast that relates some of the best stories from their storytelling events.

My Go-To for Inspiration: The Moth

The Moth is one of my “go-to” sites when  I’m needing to get reconnected with what’s most important in life. I save their podcasts for those moments when I’m feeling distracted, disconnected, defeated, or just overwhelmed. I’ll go for a walk, put on my headphones, and listen to The Moth. Most of the time I emerge from the end of the walk in a better place, having stepped out my personal drama for a bit, and reconnected with a larger perspective on life.


This blog post was inspired by one such story, that of Charlene Strong. Charlene tells her personal story of how heartbreak led her to reevaluate her life and dedicate herself to advocacy for equal legal protection for LGBT families. Her story reminded me of the dearness of those in my life and the importance of nurturing and protecting my relationships with those around me. It also connected me with how pain and loss can sometimes be a catalyst for tranformation. I hope you enjoy and are also touched by Charlene’s story.

Here’s the video version of her story.

Here’s the audio version of her story.

Money Can Buy Happiness, but Hobbies are Even Better

If you saw his Ted talk, you may already be familiar with Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s research on happiness. Dr. Kahneman and a group of researchers surveyed people across income brackets in a national sample on their overall happiness.

Those who made $90,000 reported being twice as happy as those who made $20,000. However, an interesting thing happens around the $50,000 mark: happiness begins to level off.  There’s little difference between the happiness of people who make between $50,000 – 89,000 and those in the highest income groups (e.g., over $100,000).

A Key to Increased Happiness: Engage in Active Pursuits

Kahneman and colleagues offer an explanation for this trend. They suggest that higher income people, although they work more, spend more free time in active pursuits (e.g., exercise) than passive activities (e.g., watching TV). The researchers suggest the more important key to happiness is how we spend our time off.

From this perspective, money is important so long as it allows us to actively engage what we enjoy. However, once we reach a certain income level (about $50,000 a year or so), we might better spend our time focused on doing fun things than on making more money. As a more concrete example, the researchers suggest we should be working harder to reduce commutes—which people particularly hate—and spend more time in the company of people we enjoy, as people tend to rate the latter particularly high.

Think about this the next time you think about getting a new job or promotion that will earn you more money but may lead to longer hours and a longer commute. Also, consider more carefully how you spend your free time. Is it something active (e.g., exercising, socializing) or passive (e.g., vegging out)?


Kahneman, D., Krueger, A.B., Schkade, D., Schwartz, N., & Stone, A.A. (2006). Would You Be

Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion. CEPS Working Paper No. 125.

On the Virtues of Being Wrong

“Wow. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”

Take a moment and consider, what are you wrong about right now? Are you aware of being wrong about something in this moment? I mean really stop and check. Can you think of something that you know you are wrong about right now?

Most of us walk around with a perpetual feeling of being right. In most moments of our lives we feel right about what we are doing and believing. And if we do feel wrong, it’s usually only in some small part of our lives. Doesn’t this seem odd that all of us are right almost all the time? Logically, it must be the case that we are wrong about something almost all the time.  Why don’t we know it?

One way to think about is to think about our thoughts as stories. Our minds are masterful storytellers, spinning new stories all the time. And most of the time we don’t even notice it. And these stories almost always seem to be true. Rarely do we tell stories that we know we are wrong about (unless we are telling a lie, in which case we usually know that we are telling a lie and know that’s right).

Unfortunately, our inability to notice when we are wrong can hold us back. We can miss information that can help us to grow. We can be right about things that don’t help us to move forward in our lives.

If you’re up for it, below I offer a brief exercise (including a video) on how believing our own stories can stand in our way. The whole process takes about 30 minutes.

Part 1

First, take a minute to think about a direction that you’ve wanted to head in for a while now. Something you’ve wanted to do and either haven’t been able to follow through on or haven’t been able to find the time for. Write out what you want to do. Write that out in a few sentences.

Second, think about why you haven’t done it. We all have explanations for our behavior. What is your story about why you haven’t progressed in this area? Write that out in a few sentences.

Third, once you have written out your explanation, check out whether your reasons seem right or wrong to you. I would bet that it’s pretty unlikely that your explanation seems wrong, as you wouldn’t have written the explanation if you felt it was wrong.

Fourth, keep your direction and explanation in mind as you watch this TED Talk by Kathryn Schultz:


Part 2

Now that you’ve watched the TED Talk, make a new plan for how you will move in this direction that you’ve been wanting to progress in. If you are willing to be wrong about your reasons, it opens up new possibilities. What possibilities might there be for how you could get this done? Outline your plan briefly in writing.