A Life Design Experiment

Demystifying the link between weather and mood

by Holly Em on February 27, 2012

Would living somewhere with fantastic weather perpetually lift your spirits? How about if you lived somewhere with terrible weather? Would it make you grumpy after a while? According to a 2008 study, the answer is a counter-intuitive “no”.

Once again, I had to do a double take when I came across this research. A big reason I high-tailed it out of London was the weather. In the UK, the winters are long and dark (it’s pitch black outside at 4pm), and the rest of the year is just grey with sprinkles of sunshine here and there, but rarely a solid few consecutive weeks of sunshine. Being a native Californian, but also having lived under the Carolina blue skies for 8 years, this tiny amount of quality sunlight was hard for me to take, and I swear it affected my mood. In fact, several studies confirm this phenomenon (known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “SAD”).

However, according to this Psyblog article, other studies suggest that we may just be responding to a culturally transmitted idea that weather affects mood:

“The study found that on average the weather had no effect on people’s positive moods. In other words more sunlight, less wind or a higher average temperature didn’t make people feel happier. On the other hand the study did find that the weather affected people’s negative moods. For example, less sunlight was associated with greater tiredness. But, while the weather may have the potential to make us feel worse, the effects measured in this study were tiny: almost too tiny to be noticed.”

So which is it then? Does SAD exist or does weather have no effect on mood whatsoever? It turns out that the answer is both.

As Jeremy Dean writes, a recent study (2011) has found that people actually fall into one of four distinct groups:

  • Unaffected: about half the people in the study fell into this group. For these people it didn’t matter that much whether it was raining or sunny, hot or cold, their mood was mostly unaffected.
  • Summer lovers: here’s the group you’d expect. For these people, their mood improved with less rain, more sun and higher temperatures.
  • Summer haters: here’s a group of people you hear less about. These were the exact opposite of the summer lovers so they were happier when there was more rain, less sun and lower temperatures.
  • Rain haters: this group’s mood didn’t change with the temperature, sunshine or the wind; they just hated the rain.

This would explain the heated discussions my husband and I have had over weather all these years. He falls into the Unaffected group, therefore is not as hell-bent on having good weather as I. This poses a bit of a problem when trying to decide where to settle. To prove my point, I’m constantly rallying examples of others who are in “my camp” to show that weather does affect one’s mood, and he does the same. Turns out that both of us were right all along.

What about you? Does it matter to live somewhere with good weather or are you not bothered?

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

erin February 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Who knew? I suppose it makes sense that if someone grows up in the UK, they might be less inclined to have their mood dependent on weather. I’m definitely in your camp, though – too little sunshine definitely affects my mood.

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erin February 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

And love the sunny vs. rainy pic, btw :)

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Steve March 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm

You raise some great points here. And you know I think I read something about this before. Apparently people overestimate how much the weather affects their mood. Personally speaking, if I’m in a bad mood and the weather outside is bad, I’ll sometimes attribute it to how bad the weather is being. In actuality it might have nothing to do with my mood. But that might be why people say weather and mood are linked. It’s an easy way to explain a bad mood.

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Holly Em March 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I agree, Steve. Weather is an easy scapegoat. Except in my case my energy levels are very fragile (i.e. if I get anything less than 8 hours, I really feel it), therefore living in a place that does not receive much quality day light makes me more tired, thus puts me in a bad mood more easily. Ugh. I wish I were more resilient!

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