No fun without sun?
Guest writer Meik Wiking shares some results of a happiness study.
When summer reaches the Nordic countries, everyone seems to awaken from hibernation and fall over themselves to find spots in the sun. Our love of the sun stems from our lack of contact with it from October to March. During this time, the only resource the Nordic countries seem to enjoy in abundance is darkness. To make matters worse, Denmark – my home country – additionally has 179 days of rain per year. Game of Thrones fans: Think Winterfell.
For anybody who has experienced a Nordic winter, it won’t come as a surprise that weather plays a major role in driving happiness. But there is also an interesting body of research to back that gut feeling.
One of the world’s biggest happiness studies, a project called Mappiness, has been collecting data on users’ happiness levels since 2010 via an iPhone app. Led by Dr George MacKerron at the London School of Economics, the Mappiness app pings users daily to ask how they’re feeling and uses satellite positioning (GPS) to ascertain their location while they answer. Response locations are linked to environmental data including features such as pollution, noise, weather conditions, and green space.
Brexit was one of the unhappiest days in 2016.
The study shows that Christmas Day is usually the day of the year when people are happiest, while the unhappiest days are usually spent sick or at work.
Political events also affect happiness levels in the UK study. Brexit was one of the unhappiest days in 2016, while November 9 (when Europe woke up and Trump was elected president) came in as the unhappiest day that year.
Dr MacKerron also finds that weather does affect how happy we feel. It turns out people are indeed happier on sunnier days. And rain does make people less happy. When it is raining, people are about half a point less happy if indoors, and almost one and a half points less happy if outdoors.
But it’s not only the mood-boosting effect of sunshine that explains these findings. One of the reasons why people are happier on sunnier days has to do with how we behave and prioritise time. On sunnier days we are more likely to spend more time outside, for instance having a picnic in the park with family and friends – things that most people count as enjoyable and meaningful experiences – while the dark cold days of winter prompt us to race directly home from work and watch Netflix all evening.
So, what do we learn from the Mappiness findings? Should we follow the Nordic lead and enjoy the sun to the fullest while we can? Yes and no. We should certainly make the most of the sunny days, but since the rainy days will eventually come too, we should also try and see how we could bring those enjoyable sunny-day experiences to any season. Remember this when a miserable day of drizzle calls you home to binge on Netflix. Maybe you could invite people over and make it an indoor picnic instead.