Mood: Cold Comfort

Week after week of warm weather and sunshine doesn't actually make you any happier.

By Kat McGowan, published on October 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Feeling blue about the end of summer? Don't be. The weather may affect your mood quite differently than you'd expect. It turns out that you need to suffer through the cruel cold months in order to really enjoy the balmy days and blue skies of spring.

Some people are truly at the mercy of the weather: for those predisposed to seasonal affective disorder, the shorter days of winter often signal the onset of depressive symptoms, sleepiness and cognitive impairments. Many more of us suffer from a milder version of wintertime blues: About half of those who shiver through the northern winter manifest mild symptoms of SAD before the time spring rolls around.

But you can stop feeling jealous of San Diegans. A series of studies has determined that week after week of warm weather and sunshine doesn't actually make you any happier. For that matter, hot summer days tend to put people in a bad mood—as anyone living in Atlanta can confirm.

What does improve most people's mood is an unusually warm or bright day after a series of cooler or darker ones. A sunny 65 degree day in spring is much more likely to lift your spirits than the same weather would in early fall, when you're just coming off the sunshine high of summer.

Furthermore, mild weather can actually bring you down if you can't get outside to enjoy it. People who typically spend more than 45 minutes a day outside get a mood boost from a warm and pretty day.

But people who spend less than that amount of time out-of-doors each day (meaning many of us who work in offices) tend to be unhappier during spells of good weather. Perhaps we resent being cooped up indoors on a nice day—or perhaps that brief blast of fresh air simply reminds us of what we're missing.

So how to cope between now and those first mild days of spring? A three-week hiking trip to Hawaii would be ideal. Artificial sunlight therapy, first used among people with seasonal affective disorder, can also lift mood and energy levels—even among people who aren't depressed.

And if that's not enough, take solace in the knowledge that while your mood may be slump during the depths of winter, your finances may get downright frisky. Surveys of international stock markets show that cool weather tends to foster higher prices, perhaps because it stimulates risk-taking behavior. Exceptionally cold winters show higher returns than mild ones—bring on the blizzards!