Feeling lonely in life or unhappy at work? Before you pity yourself or call it quits, check the thermostat. Temperature strongly influences how we feel about ourselves, our environments, and the people around us.
Physical warmth can diminish feelings of loneliness and increase feelings of generosity, finds Yale psychologist John A. Bargh. In a recent study in Emotion, participants who reported feeling the loneliest also took the warmest, longest, and most frequent baths or showers—"quite literally," Bargh says, "to compensate for feeling socially cold."
One implication: Don't be so quick to crank up the office AC. In two studies by UCLA researcher Geoffrey Ho, people were asked to rate the efficacy of heating pads or ice packs and then answer questions about their employer or a hypothetical company. Those who got their hands warm expressed higher job satisfaction and greater willingness to buy from and work at the made-up companies.
The findings are just the latest to show how our physical selves shape our psychological selves, a field known as embodied cognition. Previous studies have demonstrated that social exclusion can make us feel chilled and a cup of iced coffee can make us judge others as unfriendly. "Abstract psychological and social concepts—how we think and feel about people, including ourselves—grow out of basic physical concepts like warmth and coldness," explains Bargh.