Temperature Tantrums: How The Weather Actually Does Affect Your Mood

by Dan Scotti

For the most part, I can tell a lot about what kind of day it’s going to be within the first five minutes of waking up.

After hitting the snooze button however many times necessary for me to actually wake up, the next thing I do is look to my window. From there, I can generally determine a lot.

If I see the sun, I’m (usually) up and at ‘em quick, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. If I hear some rain pattering against the window, though, I’ll usually go about my day rather differently... if I go about it at all.

That’s the power of weather, though: It’s a constant determinant for life – and it affects everyone individually on a daily basis.

The weather makes “beach days” possible in the summer; it puts a damper on wedding plans in the spring, and it’s the driving force behind “cuffing season” in the winter.

Weather is constantly changing and, at the same time, constantly changing us.

The belief weather plays a factor in our lives and behavior is one that’s pretty widely known and accepted. What these changes are, specifically, however, is a whole different story.

According to Dr. Vinita Mehta PhD., of Psychology Today, the sun affects a large part of how we function, a lot of times in ways we don’t even realize.

In the light of (no pun intended) Daylight Savings Time urging us to spring ahead, we’ve now been blessed with an extra hour of sunlight.

While this hour certainly provides us with an extra hour for outdoor, sun-lit activities – it also brings along with it some deeper, more provocative benefits too.

According to Mehta, sunlight provides an extremely powerful boost to human livelihood.

Sunlight makes us more generous.

According to French studies included by Dr. Mehta, which tested how sunlight affects a driver’s willingness to pick up hitchhikers, people were much more likely to lend a helping hand under sunny conditions when compared to cloudy ones.

From the statistical data provided by the study, investigators proposed sunlight directly affects our mood. In the words of Dr. Mehta,

Sunshine makes our moods more positive, [and] it also encourages us to be more helpful.

Winter can make you feel negative.

On the contrary, winter has the tendency to make us feel more negative. According to Carolyn Gregoire of Huffington Post, seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is a real thing.

Although you might not think much of your wintertime-blues, SAD can leave people feeling lethargic and apathetic for as long as months.

According to Martin Downs of WebMD, those affected by seasonal affective disorder can benefit from exposure to more sunlight in the mornings.

In fact, Alfred Lewy, MD, a seasonal affective disorder researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, thinks SAD is not so much predicated on the “seasonal weather,” so much as the amount of sunlight provided by a season.

According to Lewy, SAD is “due to a ‘phase-shift’ of the circadian rhythm.” The time at which the sun sets, and rises in the morning, plays a unique role in the maintenance of our body clocks – which then affects our subsequent moods.

Sunlight makes us big spenders.

A nice day out will make you want to open up more than just your window. According to Dr. Mehta, a nice sunny day will have you opening up your wallet.

Making use of a three-part study that analyzed consumer habits, researchers found “sunlight is associated with higher levels of spending.”

These findings, similar to sunlight’s link with generosity, hinge largely on the role sunlight plays in making us feel more positive in general.

Rain will make you feel more tired.

According to a 2008 study conducted by Jaap Denissen, the relationship between daily sunlight and self-reported tiredness drew huge parallels.

The less sunlight made available, the more likely people were to exhibit depression-like symptoms, similar to how people feel on rainy days.

As the amount of sun-lit hours decreased during winter – or on rainy, cloud-filled days in general – people are more likely to feel fatigued throughout the day.

This fatigue might even encourage us to try and eat foods with higher carbohydrate contents, which could ultimately lead to weight gain.

Violent crime rises with heat.

Anyone who’s seen Spike Lee’s iconic film “Do The Right Thing” can certainly attest to the fact high temperatures do more than simply heat up the asphalt – they also play a part in heating up people’s individual tempers, too.

According to Gregoire, both air and violent crime tend to rise as the thermometer does.

In urban Chicago, Gregoire noted violent crimes (like murder) spiked on the hottest days of the summer; while, in the winter, “shootings go way down,” according to Charlie Ransford, a data analyst for CeaseFire.

Separate studies conducted by researchers from UC Berkeley analyzed 60 prior studies on “US violent crime rates, historical uprisings and empire collapses, recent wars and lab simulations testing police decisions of when to shoot” also provided sound evidence for the link between violence and heat.

Temperate climates result in the happiest lifestyles.

“Everything in moderation” may have some truth to it after all – I mean, at least in regard to climatic conditions.

In line with Gregoire, regions with warmer conditions in the winter and cooler temperatures in the summer typically lead to the higher levels of self-reported happiness.

The reason for this might be temperate climates allow people to spend more time outside over the course of the entire calendar year.

According to Gregoire, “in addition to facilitating physical activity, simply spending time outside has been associated with lower stress levels and increased well-being.”