Happy Weather

Yesterday the weather was unseasonably warm and pleasant here in Virginia. I opened the windows at home, and felt pleased by the fresh air. I thought I was happier because of the nice weather.

A new paper just took an unusually detailed look at how 11,000 diverse Australians’ answers to the question “‘All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?” related to the weather at the 96,000 times and places they were asked. The authors found no effects when the word “life” was replaced with any of these: “job overall, employment opportunities, financial situation, home in which you live, feel part of local community, neighbourhood in which you live, how safe you feel, your health, amount of free time.”

But the authors did find effects related to that overall life satisfaction version. There were no effects of rain/snow, temperature, humidity, or windspeed, but people seemed a bit happier on days that were overall sunnier, and happier with lower air pressure, “typically associated with clouds, rain and strong winds.” Men had three times the preference for sunny weather, and when people moved to very different climates, that climate change had no effect on their happiness, controlling for weather at the time of their answer!

The authors suggest that life satisfaction answers differ from the others because “cognitive demands of assessing overall life satisfaction lead respondents to apply heuristics that are based on contemporaneous transient factors.” I think this means that we use weather to guess our happiness, when in fact we aren’t any happier. The authors support this by noting that these differences reduce as people get more experienced answering surveys, though I didn’t find that result very compelling.

Other interesting results include that people report being happier when someone else is sitting next to them while they answer the survey, that they get progressively less happy over the course of a day, and that they are no happier on weekends. Married people were happier, but people with more dependents were less happy. Middle-aged folks were less happy, and also it seems were mid-education-level folks, controlling for age and income. Here is the paper’s main regression:


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  • The link to the paper doesn’t work for me. What was the title?

    • Does the link work for you now? Title is “Subjective wellbeing: why weather matters”

  • I’m not quite sure what it could mean to say that “we use weather to guess our happiness, when in fact we aren’t any happier.” Overall life satisfaction is a subjective estimate from the beginning, so any factors that increase our estimate also increase our life satisfaction, at least in that moment.

    • Words and feelings can differ. We need not say what we feel.

      • Ok, but I don’t see how the evidence you cited indicates that weather doesn’t make us feel more content with our lives, at least at that time.

  • I grew up in Ohio and also lived in upstate New York, then moved to California 19 years ago. Anecdotally, having more sunlight and sunny days has been very helpful for my mood. Which paper agrees is an effect.

    When I checked, Australian cities range from 2500-3100 hours of sunshine per year, or about 8 hours of sunshine per day.

    Compare to 2300 hours/year for Cincinnati, and closer to 3000 for many California cities.

    So wondering whether calculated effect of sunshine is less when data limited to locations which already have plenty like Australia. Seattle has only 2170, and of course the amount varies greatly by season there. Not sure what results would have been if places like that included. Paper was $, so didn’t look to see how much they considered these factors, though you did note this should have been evaluated when you said they checked what happened when people moved to very different climates.

    That is to say, still left wondering whether “moving for better weather to improve your mood” is not a good strategy, with the caveat that “weather” really means amount of sunshine. In particular whether avoiding very low sunshine locations for people most susceptible to that effect still reasonable.

    • IMASBA

      It’s probably about the extremes: Nordic countries really do have higher rates of suicide and depression and are prime exporters of death/black metal amd their citizens scramble to spend every holiday in sunnier places. But once you get more sunshine and nice weather than Northern California you’ll get vastly diminshed returns with regards to happiness.

      I know in temperate regions most people feel more energetic and amorous in the summertime, but I don’t know if these effects persist in significant amounts for people living in warmer climates over extended periods of time.

  • Lord

    I don’t think that is what it means. More that happiness is best measured transient relative to a normal level, now rather than over the last year(s) or lifetime. This is why moving doesn’t matter; we accustomize to the change. They didn’t ask whether you have had a satisfying life (so far) which would put the onus on lifetime.

    • We customize to adversity only partly.

      But I do find it incredible that climate doesn’t make a difference to happiness. If we apply Kahneman’s adage that something affects our happiness only when we think about it, we think about climate a lot when it’s very hot or cold. (And most places have seasons where it’s one or the other some of the time.)

      I think we have a stereotype of what a good climate is like. This is what affects initial impressions. The long-term effect isn’t necessarily in line with the cultural stereotype. We’re “biodiverse” as to what climate we prefer, and as far as can readily detect, the evidence neglects this.

      • Lord

        I think this is a case of all things not being equal. We recognize trade-offs in all things. We might prefer to live on the coast but not in dense cities and devote half our income to rent. We might prefer to live somewhere warmer but not without everyone we know or all the time, including those when it is very hot. We may prefer sunnier days but not desert landscapes. We may prefer showers but not the humidity they bring. Preferences are diverse both in climate and in trade-offs and we can choose to focus on the positives more than the negatives where ever we are.

      • IMASBA

        I agree: there’s a lot of trade-offs in matters such as the climate one lives in. If you’re not happier living in the Australian desert that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t generally be happier from living in a warm temperate climate than living in Siberia, all else being equal.

      • Line from a song: “Heat is only skin deep. Cold is to the bone.”

        This makes much sense to some folks, none to others.

        I think: 1) We give too little weight to climate in making choices; and 2) We don’t have very good knowledge of what climate we actually prefer.

        Me, I go hot. The most compatible climate I found was in the deep South. I wouldn’t have predicted it.

  • Men had three times the preference for sunny weather, and when people moved to very different climates, that climate change had no effect on their happiness, controlling for weather at the time of their answer!

    What if many individuals prefer cold weather? Could climate make a difference that isn’t apparent because the effects cancel out? Some are happier, some less happy, when it’s sunny, temperate, etc.

  • Robert Koslover

    “…I opened the
    windows at home, and felt pleased by the fresh air. I thought I was
    happier because of the nice weather.” Sure, that sounds like a fine topic for some light poetry, right? Well, not at Overcoming Bias. Here, such subjects are instead addressed rigorously and quantitatively. 🙂

  • dlr

    Why didn’t you include the effect size? ‘A bit happier’ means what? 20% happier? 10% happier? 1% happier?

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