As much of the U.S. prepares for cold, grey days over the next few months, down at the Galápagos Island in Ecuador, fish swim playfully in a climate that sees little variation throughout the year.
Does a moderate climate and long sunny days potentially induce humans to live life more happily? It’s a question some researchers recently tackled at the University of Vermont. They found ‘happiness rises and falls with distance from the equator.’ In other words, the closer you live to the equator the happier you feel.
People in sunny, outdoorsy states like Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida say they’re the happiest Americans, according to similar study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which based its findings on a survey 1.3 million people across the country.
Lack of sunshine means low mood and lack of vigor. Research has shown that on cloudy days, people are more likely to feel depressed or get angry as opposed to feelings experienced a cloudless days.
“Sunshine is not the cause of happiness but is definitely a factor. Biologically it affects our brain and body chemistry – we need sunshine to produce vitamin D, our serotonin levels and circadian rhythms are affected by sunshine – and simply our enjoyment of daytime activities,” says Loren Moss, a Miami, Florida-based technology writer, who has traveled extensively in South America.
The places where people are most likely to report happiness also tend to rate high on studies comparing things like climate, air quality and schools.
Research done in the 1970s and 1980s suggested that high pressure, high temperature and low humidity were associated with positive emotions – basically, nice weather seemed to put people in a good mood.
“I spent Christmas once in the Dominican Republic. There everyone goes door to door to greet and party with their neighbors. Doors are open, music is playing and children are running around everywhere. It couldn’t be that way in a cold environment,” Moss added.
Near the Equator there is little distinction between summer, winter, autumn, or spring. For an example, the climate in the high mountains of South America remains relatively pleasant throughout the year.
Scientists say countries closer to the equator have many other reasons to cheer up. They say the region is on the western side of the subtropical anticyclones and thus receives warm and humid air from the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, areas in Brazil adjacent to the Tropics are extremely fertile for agriculture. It’s important to also mention that Costa Rica – while not quite sitting on top of the equator – is a perennial winner in global ratings on happiness quotient of local citizens.
The Brain Gain
With many countries in South America seeing inflows or foreigners, scientists are scrambling to learn whether ‘sunshine’ is part of the draw.
Of course, natives of many countries in the Latin America region are finding their way back home, due to improving economic conditions. Every year, as many as 25,000 Guatemalan expatriates return from the United States.
The number of foreigners living legally in Brazil rose more than 50 percent from January to June this year, from 962,000 to 1.5 million, according to the country’s justice ministry.
Over the past six years, the number of Brazilians living abroad has also dropped by half, from four million to two million. Clearly, there is a magnet at work here – and its clear that weather and an appealing climate may have a lot to do with it.