Are people happier in warmer climates?
- A 2016 Wakefield Research survey of US adults revealed that 11% of respondents cited weather as one of the reasons they had moved in the past.
- The Cleveland Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as 'depression that gets triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts. This seasonal depression gets worse in the winter before ending in the spring.' SAD affects up to 3% of the general population.
- Pew Research Center found that 57% of Americans prefer living in hotter weather, while 29% prefer living in colder weather.
- James Cook University's State of the Tropics report predicts that by 2050 half of the world's population will live in tropical regions.
While happiness is difficult to quantify, studies indicate that people are usually happiest in moderately warm temperatures. Being able to get outside as often as possible has numerous physical and mental health benefits that staying shut-in indoors during colder temperatures cannot provide.
A 2013 study revealed that people reported being happier in a warm climate and that 'subjective happiness is related to temperature.' Using a quadratic model, the study showed that happiness is 'maximized' at 13.9°C/57.0°F. While this may sound like sweater weather for those dwelling close to the equator, it's temperate compared to the dead of a Midwestern winter.
This finding may be linked to the fact that the weather can impact one's mental health. For instance, controlled studies have found that vitamin D deficiency, which can be caused by a lack of sun exposure, is correlated with symptoms of depression. In warmer climates, where there are more activities to enjoy outdoors, people are more likely to spend time in the sun and thus decrease their risk of depression. Also, spending time in nature—which is most comfortable in temperate climates—has a positive impact on overall mental wellbeing. Further, in warmer weather, people spend time outdoors socializing and engaging with their communities, resulting in improved camaraderie and less isolation, both factors that contribute to one's overall mood.
However, weather can also affect physical health. Specifically, cold weather can increase joint pain--as was revealed in a study exploring osteoarthritis patients and colder temperatures. And there's a reason why the cold and flu season strikes during the winter months.
Overall, people in warmer climates are happier due to the positive mental and physical effects that higher temperatures bring.
Living in a warmer climate is not the key to happiness. While being on vacation in a tropical area might give the impression that people there are happier, studies show this is not the case.
While it is true that dark, gloomy weather can cause seasonal affective disorder, this is more about who you are than where you live. Thinking that you would be happier in a warmer climate is a product of focus illusion, or the “grass is always greener” effect. It is important to remember that warmer climates have many drawbacks that reduce comfort, including bugs, frequent rain, high humidity, mold or mildew, and hazardous plants.
Studies comparing mood and weather have found very little correlation, and sometimes even a negative correlation between sunny days and good moods. Other studies found no correlation between seasonal depression rates and latitude. We would see it when mapping happiness globally if it were true, but no such gradient or correlation exists. There is, however, some correlation between tropical countries and shorter life expectancy.
Other studies have found that females living in warmer climates are more distressed by body image and have higher rates of eating disorders. Those in warmer temperatures also suffer from more infectious diseases and parasites that threaten health and wellbeing.
Happiness is a state of being, not of being in a particular state. If you have not found happiness in yourself, you will not find it outside yourself. People in all climates have variable degrees of happiness based on many factors other than weather.