• Pool in front of futuristic building.

    Come rain or shine.

    Is the weather forecast also a forecast for the happiness in our lives? Read all about psychological studies, cloud fan clubs and our powerlessness against the capricious nature of the weather.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Moods that change with the weather.

The correlation between the human disposition and the weather appears to be the favourite subject of hobby meteorologists and laymen psychologists alike. One of many generalisations you hear is the following: in places where the sun always shines, the people are happy. If it’s cold and dark, people tend to be depressive and miserable.

Pool in front of futuristic building.
Pool in front of futuristic building.

Weather as a barometer for happiness?

But is this really the case? Does warm and sunny weather make us happier than most people would believe? Daniel Kahneman, the American Nobel Prize winner for psychology, and his colleague David Schkade, discovered that in the USA there is a popular belief that the people in California are happier due to the good weather there. In 1998 they went in search of evidence and, in a representative sample study, compared people’s satisfaction with life in California with that in the rainy and cool mid-west. The participants of the study from both sample groups were convinced that people living in California would be happier. Yet when comparing the actual results, there was no difference in the level of happiness reported.

  • Black Mercedes-Benz umbrella.

The illusion of bad weather.

Not only were the people in California not happier in general, it appeared that overall the weather was the factor which affected the level of happiness the least. Other studies comparing the level of happiness in the people of different countries usually have the same countries at the top of the list: Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. All countries with extremely cold weather and few hours of sunlight. Why people still have the misconception that their mood depends on the weather, despite all these studies, is something that Kahneman and Schkade seek to explain with the theory of cognitive bias.

Circumstances which appear to be obvious to everyone carry greater weight than real but less obvious factors. For example, California has a high rate of criminality and violence in comparison with the mid-west. In reality, this plays a more important role in determining people’s happiness than good weather does. Yet for the majority of people, high criminality is not regarded as a burden for everybody but instead as a blow of fate for those individually affected.

Futuristic building.

Extreme weather makes us more caring.

Why the level of happiness is very high in extremely cold countries, of all places, may have something to do with the fact that extreme weather situations tend to make people more empathetic towards each other. Whereas heat has been shown to promote aggression, the cold appears to bring people closer together. In extremely cold conditions, people are more generous and helpful towards homeless people, for example. According to studies, climate-related natural catastrophes usually also cause people to pull together and help each other in times of need. While the weather hardly seems to affect our general happiness at all, it does have an effect on our personality. And it makes sense that we feel happier when we are more generous and caring, rather than aggressive, towards other people.

The joy of cloudbursts and weather changes.

It doesn’t take a study to notice how one’s mood improves when the first sunny days of spring appear after a long winter or when the sun breaks through the clouds after a rain shower, with the smell of fresh rain in the air and the puddles glittering golden from the sun’s rays. But perhaps it is not the good weather that is the decisive factor for this feeling of happiness, but the change in weather which has a positive effect on our disposition.

Palm trees under futuristic building.
Black Mercedes-Benz umbrella.

Unusual weather phenomena.

Besides, there are a great many fans of unusual weather phenomena. The Cloud Appreciation Society, a club from England with over 42,000 members around the world, is devoted purely to the beauty of clouds. A cloudless sky is simply monotonous and boring, they emphasise in their manifesto. Scanning the horizon and expertly observing the clouds as they pass by is one of the nicest excuses for doing nothing, is how the society’s founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney sees it. And nowadays more than ever, good excuses for doing nothing seem to be more and more important.

  • Futuristic building.

Weather as a fitness motivator.

Good weather in itself might not make us happy, but it can still play an important role for our health and mental well-being. When the weather is nice, people are more likely to go out and spend time in nature. In a study on hikers, it was observed that after only a few days hiking in nature, both the mental and physical states of the hikers had improved.

And that completely irrespective of whether the sun had been shining or the rain had been pouring down. So even though the weather does not have a direct effect on our happiness, many people are more motivated in the summer to work out and lead a healthier lifestyle with lots of time spent in nature and parks.

Futuristic building.

Don’t let the weather get you down.

Life is full of small misconceptions. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if we blame the weather or other factors for our mood and level of happiness. No matter how seriously individual factors appear to influence our satisfaction with life, the most important factor will always be our own fundamental attitude. And it is this which determines whether we seek to actively shape our own life or let ourselves be affected by changes in the weather. However much we humans try to control the laws of nature, we are all still at the mercy of the elements. So instead of getting upset about every cloud that appears on the horizon, we should take pleasure in trying to interpret their shapes just like when reading coffee grounds. Or even just let the clouds pass by and look forward to the sun reappearing.