We have recently been experiencing unusually wet weather for the time of year. According to the Met Office, the three months between April and June 2012 were the wettest since the records began in 1910 . In June, storms and torrential rainfall led to power cuts, severe travel disruption, and school closures. These extreme conditions clearly affect everyday functioning. However, does the weather have a more general impact on mood and well-being? There are various expressions that point to the relationship between mood and weather, such as feeling ‘bright’, ‘dark mood’, and having a ‘sunny disposition’. With regards to research, there are mixed results in this area. When nearly 500 students observed their mood in relation to the weather, no relationship was found . However, in another study of over 600 people, ‘pleasant weather’ was associated with not only a brighter mood, but also improved memory and ‘broadened cognitive style’ .
It is not a case of ‘the hotter, the better’, as hotter weather is associated with lower moods. For example, people rated themselves as happiest in Orkney, which receives considerably fewer hours of sunshine than the UK average. Similarly, people in countries such as Norway and Canada rated themselves as happier than those in countries with warmer weather . There is also evidence that the heat can lead to extreme behaviour, such as increased violence . Furthermore, suicides were reported to be more likely on days with high temperatures, thunderstorms or on days following a thunderstorm .
Some people report that the weather has a considerable impact on their mood. People with ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD) experience depression that starts in autumn or winter and tends to resolve in the spring. The causes of this so-called ‘winter depression’ are not clear but it is thought to relate to lower levels of exposure to sunlight. The symptoms are similar to those seen in typical depression (lethargy, loss of interest in activities), and there are other specific symptoms (sleeping longer and carbohydrate craving). The treatment for SAD involves exposure to sunlight using light boxes. Around 50% of non-depressed people experience some symptoms of SAD during the winter in the northern hemisphere  and have also found light boxes helpful to brighten their moods .
Although we cannot control the weather, it may affect how we think, feel, and act. If we continue to experience dark, wet summers, we have several options: 1) move to sunnier, more pleasant climates, 2) buy a light box, or 3) view our changeable UK weather as a helpful metaphor for the ups and downs we experience as part of life:
‘Weather is a great metaphor for life — sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and there’s nothing much you can do about it but carry an umbrella’, Terri Guillemets
- Watson, D. (2000). Mood and temperament. New York: Guilford Press.
- Keller, M., Fredrickson, B., Ybarra, O. et al. (2005). A Warm Heart and a Clear Head: The Contingent Effects of Weather on Mood and Cognition, Psychological Science,16, 724 – 731
- Anderson, C. (2001). Heat and violence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 33–38.
- Deisenhammer, E., Kemmler, G. & Parson, P. (2003). Association of meteorological factors with suicide, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 108, 445-459.
- Dam, H., Jakobsen, K., & Mellerup, E. (1998). Prevalence of winter depression in Denmark. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 97, 1–4.
- Leppamaki, S., Partonen, T., & Lonnquist, J. (2002). Bright-light exposure combined with physical exercise elevates mood. Journal of Affective Disorders, 72, 139–144.