18 Jul 2013

Reasons to be cheerful: why the heatwave makes you happy

It’s official: temperatures over 24 degrees improve our mood, say experts in mood analysis. Channel 4 News looks at why heatwaves make us happy.

We all know the drill: the sun comes out, the tops come off, and the Great British Public hits the park/seaside/pavement with a can in one hand and an ice lolly in the other.

With 12 days over 28 degrees Celsius, we’ve now had the longest heatwave in the last seven years.

And if it seems like most of us are in a better mood when the weather improves, that’s not just your own rose-tinted glasses.

Data measuring our mood in July, compiled for Channel 4 News by the crowd-sourced mood tracker Mood Panda, shows that we have recorded better than average moods since the heatwave began on 6 July.

“It is easy to see the nice things in the world when the weather is like this,” wrote one Mood Panda user.

Another mood mapping project, Mappiness, has found that once temperatures reach 24 degrees, our mood rises by five per cent: around the same impact as a run or playing sport, says Mappiness co-founder Dr George MacKerron, from the University of Sussex.

Of course the heat makes it more difficult to sleep, public transport unbearable – and it’s impossible to find anything to wear. But here’s why the heatwave is also making us happy.

Sunny socialising

The hot weather grants us more opportunities to be sociable, and this has a huge role to play in making us feel happier, says Professor Cary Cooper, organisational psychology and health expert.

Managers just cut more slack with workers and allow more freedom – Dr Cary Cooper

“The weather is an enabler of social interaction,” he told Channel 4 News. “In winter, we get up in the dark, we go home in the dark – we hibernate. [In summer] we interact more…we talk to our neighbours across the fence, we have lunch with friends.

“What helps us feel good is not just the weather, but the fact that we’re more socially interactive,” adds Dr Cooper.

Crowds gather in Hyde Park (G)

We eat lunch

The heat has a transformative effect on the humble lunchbreak, which goes from a sandwich at the desk, to picnics in the park with colleagues.

Nutritionists and health experts have long extolled the virtues of taking a lunchbreak. It not only keeps our blood sugar levels constant, but taking breaks lowers stress levels – and it apparently helps the economy too, because we are more productive after a break.

And all this is only made possible because of…

Relaxed bosses

After our mood has been lifted by all the socialising, in and out of work, we become more relaxed. And so do our bosses. “Managers just cut more slack with workers and allow more freedom,” says Prof Cooper.

Even if the air-conditioning is blasting and your office bears no resemblance to the haven of heat outside, the effect of rising temperatures will impact office life.

“If bosses are feeling better about it, then they create a different kind of atmosphere,” Professor Cooper adds. “It’s an excuse for all of us to operate more closely.”

Passengers travel on a bus with The Heat advertisement (G)

Austerity summer

When the temperature rises, it suddenly becomes acceptable to hang out in parks with cans of cider and a picnic – and at a cost of next to nothing.

Why pay over £5 for a glass of wine, when you could buy a whole bottle for the same price and drink it in the sunshine?

We aren’t obliged to spend time and money indoors. And although we’re forking out for BBQs and sunscreen, the simple pleasures of life that also happen to be free, become viable options for fun.

Take camping: far from being a miserable endurance exercise, it becomes a joyous foray into nature. Those of us who booked holidays in the UK this year will be in for a treat.

Say goodbye to suits

High heels and suits may project a professional image. But in this heat even the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is abandoning his working wardrobe, and told LBC Radio that he has been walking around barefoot in the office.

No doubt the TUC would approve. They have asked employers to allow workers to dress more causally: “employers who allow their workforce to loosen their ties, discard their jackets and remove their tights will undoubtedly get the thumbs up from their grateful employees during the hottest days of the summer”, says the union.

Our own Weather Presenter Liam Dutton has been taking their advice:

However some people have taken this a step too far. Faced with a string of customers with flesh on display, Tesco has asked customers to cover-up in the hot weather.

Fitter happier

We get most of our Vitamin D from sunshine. But a recent study by Edinburgh University also found that sunlight could help to reduce blood pressure, which reduces the change of heart attacks and risk of a strokes.

Of course we have to be careful not to get burnt, or expose ourselves to skin cancer. But the study found that the benefits of sunshine may far outweigh these risks.

So while we may be filling up on ice-cream and alcohol, the benefits of UV rays will be a huge boost to our wellbeing.

Rain is just around the corner

Those who are struggling to make the most of the hot weather, spare a thought for the parts of the UK that have escaped the heatwave and have to listen to the rest of us going on about the heatwave.

Like Bruce Shayler, under grey skies in Margate (below), who told Channel 4 News: “Heatwave trip to the seaside? Margate is freezing!”

Grey skies in Margate