Whether they’re only happy when it rains or prefer walking on sunshine, most people will tell you that the weather affects their moods — even the songs we listen to confirm it. But does science? A growing body of evidence suggests that might be the case.
Does Weather Affect Mood?
The short answer is yes, but there are many factors that determine the degree to which this is true. Common sense suggests that people are happier when the sun is shining, but researchers who dug into this have often been surprised to find that sunshine on its own generally has little to no effect on mood.
Researchers have found that a significant number of people report feeling happier when the weather is sunny. However, once they accounted for other weather variables (like barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature) as control factors, the connection between sunlight and mood became weaker.
In other words, there’s a lot more to being happy in sunshine than the presence of sunlight. Some of the factors that may account for our general impression of being happier when it’s sunny include:
- People are more likely to get outdoors and engage in fun activities when it’s sunny.
- Sunlight is essential to our body’s production of vitamin D, which affects mood.
- People tend to have higher serotonin levels on bright, sunny days than on gray days.
- Sunny days tend to be more meteorologically stable, with fewer extreme weather shifts than cloudy days. Consistent environmental conditions put less stress on the body — it doesn’t have to adjust to fluctuations in temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity, for example.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Many researchers have distinguished seasonal mood variations — which we see, for example, with SAD — and daily mood variations. Shorter days and fewer hours of sunlight in autumn and winter can have varying effects on a person's mood, ranging from simply feeling down during cold or cloudy weather to having extended, seasonal symptoms like depression, lethargy, and anxiety.
Researchers have found that SAD is caused by, among other things, a lack of serotonin and of vitamin D, which is most commonly delivered through exposure to sunlight. Treatments can include phototherapy (which simulates sunlight) during the darker months.
Factors That Impact Mood Changes
Are people really sadder when it rains? In general, studies have found some correlation between rain and mood, but the results are similar to those of the studies on the effects of sunlight in that there are more underlying factors than simply the rain itself. And just like those studies, researchers cite several “confounding factors” — things that make it harder to determine whether rain was the element responsible for people being sadder. Those factors include:
Humidity affects the way our bodies perceive temperature, among other things. A cold, damp day feels colder. A hot, humid day feels hotter and more oppressive. In general, high humidity can exacerbate physical symptoms and make people feel sluggish and less productive.
If you can “feel the weather in your bones,” there’s a chance that what you’re feeling is a reaction to a change in barometric pressure. The Cleveland Clinic notes that changes in barometric pressure, especially when coupled with falling temperatures and increased humidity — classic characteristics of rainy days — can worsen joint pain, which can certainly affect your mood. Changes in barometric pressure can also trigger or worsen migraines.
In one study, the authors note that some of the negative emotions related to rainy weather could be associated with having to change or cancel plans due to weather. They also found that people who were more flexible with regard to changing plans were less likely to be negatively affected by rainy weather.
As previously mentioned, barometric pressure can trigger some types of pain. Another study looked specifically at how weather affects a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms and found that in addition to joint pain and migraines, the weather affected muscle pain, itchiness, eczema, fatigue, anxiety, cramps, and depressed mood.
What Kinds of Weather Impact Our Emotions the Most?
Of all the weather types the researchers found correlations for, temperature specifically had the most significant influence over both physical and emotional symptoms. Additionally, women seem to be more affected by weather conditions than men, and older adults are more likely to report joint pain.
Weather and Social Media
One fascinating study took a different approach to gathering data about how weather affects mood. A group of researchers looked at billions of posts on Twitter and Facebook and correlated the emotions expressed in them with the local weather at the time. They found that cold temperatures, hot temperatures, precipitation, humidity, and cloud cover are all associated with “worsened expression of sentiment.” In other words, more people are sad, disappointed, angry, or otherwise negatively affected when it's too hot, too cold, rainy, cloudy, or too humid.
These researchers also found that the general mood typically improved when the outdoor temperature was between 59 °F (15 °C) and 68 °F (20 °C). At temperatures higher and lower than that, there was a steady increase of negative expressions of emotions.
How To Help Manage Your Mood
Whatever the weather is, there are ways you can help manage how it affects your mood.
Know the Weather
AcuRite helps you track the weather in the locations where it’s most important to you — your town, your backyard, and your home. By monitoring weather conditions carefully, you’ll be notified about upcoming weather events that might disrupt your plans or trigger physical or emotional symptoms. Tracking that data may help you modify your pain management and self-care routines to adjust to changing weather conditions.
Optimize Your Home
Keep track of humidity, temperature, airflow, and more in and around your home. AcuRite™ lets you monitor the conditions inside so that you can make adjustments where necessary to optimize your home for your health and your mood.
Maintain Comfortable Temperature and Humidity
Monitor bedrooms and living areas so you can ensure that they’re at the optimal temperature and humidity to promote healthy sleep and keep your whole family comfortable.
Use Full-Spectrum Lighting
As days shorten and people spend more time indoors, full-spectrum lighting becomes more important. Replacing lamps and light bulbs with bulbs that include the full range of light wavelengths can help offset the effects of shortened days. The AcuRite Atlas® lets you monitor and track the UV index, light intensity, and hours of daylight, which can help you modify your indoor lighting appropriately.
Take Advantage of the Good Days
Take advantage of good weather — low humidity and comfortable temperatures — to get outside and be active. Even a short walk or an hour on the front porch in the sun can have an appreciable effect on your mood.
A critical note about research on the effects on weather and mood is that nearly every paper or study notes that the results are influenced by many things, including the personal preferences and experiences of individual participants. Because of this, the best way to determine how weather affects you — and your household — is to track your mood changes in a weather journal.
You can download our basic weather journal page geared to Junior Weather Watchers, add sections for tracking mood and weather to your journal, or even download an app. Once you know how weather conditions affect your mood, you can take extra self-care steps for those days when your mood might need a little extra help.