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Science: Sunny days make British office workers sad

People sit in the sunshine in central London.
Reuters/Paul Hackett
Well, this is nice.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

After millennia of coping with grey clouds, sleet, fog and other “bad” weather, humans have learned to cope. Happiness is not correlated to whether the sun is shining, according to research from the University of Westminster in England.

But we haven’t yet fully adapted to working inside on sunny days.

After he compared wellbeing with daily weather patterns over between 1991 and 2008 Franz Buscha, principal research fellow at the university’s Centre for Employment Research, found just one meaningful correlation: there was a small negative relationship between job satisfaction and sunshine.

“I, like many other people… feel generally happier when the sun is shining, so I was expecting to find at least some correlation between wellbeing and the weather,” he tells Quartz. Buscha took daily weather data from the UK Met Office, and overlaid it with data on wellbeing from the British Household Panel Survey, which began surveying a group of more than 10,000 people in 1991.

There was no significant variation in reported happiness between sunny days and cloudy ones, though people did generally say that they were more content in winter than in summer.

There was, however, a small but statistically significant correlation between unhappiness at work and sunny days. “Most of us have service sector jobs these days,” Buscha says. “We sit in offices, and it makes sense that when the sun is shining we’re less happy.”

The well-worn trope of Brits’ obsession with the weather has, to an extent, been disproved­ by the research—it takes more than a bit of drizzle to spoil a happy mood, and more than blue sky to remedy heartache.

But we now have scientific proof that being stuck at a desk when the sun is shining is mildly annoying. The effect isn’t large, Buscha stresses, but it’s there and it’s office-related. When he dug into the results, he found that construction workers, for example, are happier when the sun comes out.

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