MORE SUNSHINE WON’T MAKE YOU HAPPIER: New research on weather and wellbeing

New research dispels the commonly believed notion that rain, or periods of bad weather, makes British people feel moodier, unhappier, in poorer health or less friendly. The study by Dr Franz Buscha, which will be presented at the Royal Economic Society's 2015 annual conference at the University of Manchester later this month, examines the relationship between weather and measures of wellbeing using UK data spanning nearly 20 years. The key findings are that:

• There is no causal relationship between daily weather patterns and self-reported wellbeing.

• There is a statistically significant negative relationship between job satisfaction and sunshine. This suggests that people are less happy with their jobs on sunny days. But this effect remains small.

• There is also significant evidence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) whereby individual becomes markedly less happy during winter periods.

Do local weather conditions affect people's mood? Does sunshine make you happy? Do people report lower health outcomes on cold rainy days? These are the kind of questions that are examined and answered in this study.

By merging daily weather data from the UK Met Office with individual level longitudinal wellbeing data over the period 1991-2008, the research finds no evidence of the often assumed relationship between sunshine and happiness. After controlling for several important factors, the causal impact of daily weather fluctuations on various measures of wellbeing – for example, happiness, health, job satisfaction and financial wellbeing –is mostly found to be insignificant.

In November 2010, the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) set up the National Wellbeing Programme, the aim of which was to develop and publish an accepted list of national statistics that reports on the national wellbeing of the UK population. This work culminated in a first report entitled 'Measuring National Wellbeing: Life in the UK, 2012', which shows that 76% of the UK population aged 16 or over has a high or medium satisfaction with their life overall.

At the same time, various studies and weather events suggest that global warming and climate change are becoming ever increasing features of life. For example, 2014 was the warmest year on record in the UK and 8 of the top 10 warmest years have occurred since 2002. It is thus natural to ask, could such global weather events affect national wellbeing?

Previous work on such questions has not come to a substantive conclusion with various studies finding statistically significant correlations and other finding nothing. Many of the previous studies, however, only examined small self-made surveys and usually looked at specific regional locations. To date, no study has both examined this effect in the UK and used a nationally representative longitudinal sample of data.

The new study uses data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which provides access to approximately 150,000 observations of 10,000 UK households over the period 1991 to 2008. Using various econometric techniques and control variables, the results suggest that the effect of temperature, sunshine, wind speed and rain over a one-day period, three-day period and five-day period have very little effect on individual measures of wellbeing.

The study concludes that weather variations have no impact on people's daily lives and wellbeing. In other words, additional sunshine does not make people happier. Any effects are marginal at best. For example, although the impact of sunshine on job satisfaction is significant, it would take an additional 10 hours of sunshine to decrease job satisfaction by only 1% – a phenomenon that is extremely unlikely to occur.

Dr Buscha says:

'The commonly believed notion that good weather puts people in better moods is not supported by my research. Indeed, the UK population seems relatively resilient at dealing with daily and short-run weather fluctuations.

'Extrapolating these results suggests that the increase in extreme type weather events, such as higher global temperatures or more rain, are unlikely to affect the wellbeing of the UK population directly.

'But it is possible that extreme weather events will indirectly affect measures of wellbeing via droughts, floods or other personal life events. This as an important avenue for future research.'

'Does Sunshine make you Happy? Subjective Measures of Wellbeing and the Weather' by Dr Franz Buscha at the University of Westminster