Sunshine and Smiles: Does Living in a Warm Climate Guarantee Happiness?

Published By Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP
March 29, 2024


Imagine sipping coffee on a sun-drenched balcony with a gentle breeze wafting in the salty scent of the ocean. Or picture yourself diving into turquoise waters, warm sand caressing your toes.

It is no wonder many associate warm climates with happiness. After all, who wouldn’t crave vitamin D-rich sunshine over months of gray skies and bone-chilling winters? But does reality live up to this idyllic daydream? Does basking in sunshine truly translate to higher levels of happiness?

Here at iMind, we’re constantly exploring the factors that influence mental wellbeing. While the allure of tropical paradises might seem straightforward, the relationship between climate and happiness is far more nuanced.

Grab your metaphorical mug of hot coffee (or iced, depending on your climate!), and let’s embark on a journey to understand: Are people in warmer climates truly happier, or is this just another sun-kissed illusion?

How Warm Weather Affects Mental Health

The belief that sunshine equals happiness is not entirely unfounded. Mid-range temperatures of 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit provide a boost in mood.

Research also suggests that increased sunlight exposure can boost vitamin D levels, which positively impact mood and even reduce the risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Sunshine also increases serotonin levels, which positively affects mood and focus and boost memory, cognition, and creativity.

How much do you need to get these benefits? Just 30 minutes spent in sunny, pleasant conditions offered mood-boosting effects, according to a University of Michigan study.

There is one caution here, however: If it is too hot (think Florida-summer-hot), that effect evaporated. In fact, being out in temperatures that regularly soar over 90 degrees Fahrenheit can negatively affect your wellbeing.

Sunshine Isn’t Everything: A Look at the Complete Happiness Picture

Painting the warm climate equals happy equation with broad strokes could be misleading. After all, not everyone who has access to sunny weather year-round is ecstatic. In fact, here is where the relationship gets interesting.

First, the initial happiness boost from warmer weather might fade over time. Adaptation is the key here. Whenever something changes in our lives, say, a new house or a new car, the novelty brings us much satisfaction for a few months. However, that affect tends to wear off, so that even the allure of moving to a tropical paradise will cease to bring you the same joy after a while.

It’s not just about temperature, either. Studies suggest other factors like seasonal changes and even rainfall can influence mood to varying degrees. For example, some individuals thrive in predictable warmer climates, while others might find the lack of seasonal variation less stimulating. Also, being in a scenic location, regardless of the weather, can lift our spirits.

Finally, for those with anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, symptoms can actually worsen as temperatures rise. As heat increases, so do the mortality rates among those living with these mental conditions.

So, are we left with a confusing jumble of contradicting data? Not quite. Instead, the research paints a picture of a nuanced relationship between climate and happiness.

Beyond Climate: The Many Factors of Happiness

As it turns out, climate is just one piece of the happiness puzzle. While sunshine and warmth might hold some benefits, there are a wide range of ingredients involved in the formula for life satisfaction.


Income Level

Financial security can ease stress and unlock opportunities that enhance wellbeing. In fact, data suggests that increases in income boost happiness.

So, is there a magic salary number for happiness? Maybe. In 2018, a Purdue University study found that $60,000 to $70,000 income per year was the ideal point for mental wellbeing and $95,000 for life satisfaction. In 2024 dollars, that is $74,657 to $87,100 annually for emotional wellbeing and $118,207 for life satisfaction. A 2023 National Academy of Sciences paper provided evidence that happiness levels continue to increase, up to $500,000 (after this point, the researchers lacked sufficient data), while a 2022 CNBC poll asking Americans how much they needed to feel “financially healthy” put the number came at $122,000 per year, or $129,366 in 2024 dollars.

The bottom line is that higher income levels increase happiness… for most of us. For 20 percent of the population, happiness increases up to $100,000 in income and then does not continue to rise beyond that. If you are among the “unhappy minority”, you won’t get happier with more money once you reach that threshold.



Higher education has been linked to increased happiness by providing valuable skills, knowledge, and personal growth opportunities.

Several studies over the past 12 years indicate that people with a college degree are generally happier than those without one. The biggest reason for this is the boost in income seen from a college degree. Higher education also helps develop cognitive skills that can aid in happiness.

There are some drawbacks, however: Going to college may raise people’s expectations of future earnings, and reality might not match up. Also, graduates may land in a more stressful job after college than they would have otherwise.

Still, on average, college graduates earn significantly more than those with only a high school degree. Recent graduates aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree earned a median of $60,000 a year in 2023. This is 67 percent more than their counterparts with only a diploma, who made a median income of $36,000 annually.


Social Support

Strong social connections with family, friends, and the community provide belonging and emotional security, positively impacting happiness.

This gain in happiness can actually be measured. One study found that having five or more friends equates to a 60 percent boost in happiness. Friendship with your spouse also increases marital satisfaction, accounting for 70 percent of it, according to Gallup. And, if you marry your best friend, you are two times happier than those who did not. Friendship can also make your job more enjoyable and even help you beat cancer and heart diseases.

Building your social circle is one proven way to nurture a happy life.



There is truth to “As you think, so shall you be”. A positive outlook acts as a buffer against stress and challenges, fostering greater resilience and happiness.

It may be a chicken-and-egg question: Which came first, the optimism or the happiness? While the answer may be up for debate, there’s no denying that optimistic people tend to be happier than with a pessimistic worldview.

Here’s the key, though: You can learn to be more optimistic. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, can train your brain to think more helpful, positive thoughts. With CBT, therapists assist their clients in changing their thoughts and behaviors that influence overall happiness. One study even found that therapy is 32 times better than cash at making people happy.

So if you are a glass-is-half-full person, there is hope for you to change your thoughts and, therefore, your life.



Making a point to notice and celebrate the good things in life has been shown to boost happiness and our sense of wellbeing.

A study on journaling demonstrated this. One group of participants journaled positive things that had happened to them – things for which they were grateful – while another group wrote about irritants and annoyances. Yet another group journaled their experiences with no instruction to emphasize the positive or the negative. The result? Those who wrote about things they were grateful for were more optimistic, more satisfied with life, and had fewer physician visits than those who were focused on the negative. Expressing appreciation can lead to greater productivity among employees and higher levels of marital satisfaction as well.

What are you grateful for today? Write it down. Do this every day (or even once a week), and you are on your way to a happier life.


Purpose and Meaning

Having a sense of the purpose and meaning for your life can contribute to greater fulfillment, impacting how often you feel joy, how content and relaxed you are, an your level of enthusiasm.

One interesting study on this subject uncovered actual physical differences in those who chased self-gratification versus helping others. In the former, the body’s response to their behavior was inflammation and a lowered immune system, which put them at risk for neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and other diseases. Those who aimed to do good to others and had a deep sense of purpose were not only happy but healthier as well. While both groups felt positive emotions, the body’s reaction to each behavior was markedly different.

Apparently, the adage “it is better to give than to receive” is actually true.


Cultural Context

Values, traditions, and social norms within our cultural frameworks also shape our perceptions of happiness.

For example, individualistic versus collectivistic cultures emphasize different values, affecting how people define and strive for happiness. The latter emphasizes social harmony, while individualistic ones value personal freedom and fulfillment.

Studies suggest that cultures focusing on individualism bred happiness at a higher rate than do collective ones. Apparently, greater freedom and independence –including choosing where to live, whom to associate with, and how interaction with others happens – increases life satisfaction. The downside of the focus on self is greater competition for achievement, higher levels of social anxiety, and an excessive focus on personal goals, which can impact relationships.

Looking at the research, it might just be that a balance of social connection and individual freedom is the ideal scenario to foster happiness.


Spiritual Beliefs

For some, religious or spiritual beliefs can provide comfort, support, and a sense of purpose, impacting happiness.

Pew Research Center found that nearly four out of 10 (36 percent) of actively religious people would say they are “very happy”, as compared to 25 percent of inactively religious and 25 percent of those who not affiliated with any religion.

Most studies reveal that religious people have lower levels of depression and fewer symptoms as well, with only one in seven people of very religious people having had diagnosable depression. This is 17 percent lower than those who or nonreligious and 24 percent lower than those who are moderately religious.


Access to Healthcare and Resources

The ability to access essential healthcare, education, and opportunities significantly impacts wellbeing and life satisfaction.

People with lower incomes report dissatisfaction with life at over double the rate of those at or over 200 percent of the poverty level in the U.S. (about $55,000 for a four-person family).

It has been long established that people without health problems are happier than those facing issues with their physical wellbeing. That is why it is critical to have access to healthcare. Research goes farther than that, telling us that simply losing health insurance can damage your happiness and sense of wellbeing. In one study, lacking health insurance coverage was associated with a significant (16-point) drop in life satisfaction.

Food insecurity, whether it arises from living in a food desert or simply not having enough money to buy sufficient sustenance, is also associated with a decline in mental health. Unfortunately, worsening mental health can lead to a decline in job performance, leaving those impacted without jobs or the ability to make a living, further exacerbating the issue.

In other words, not having access to adequate nutrition and healthcare is a double whammy.

This is not an exhaustive list, as happiness is complex and dynamic. However, recognizing that happiness is a complicated mix helps us move beyond simplistic explanations and appreciate the many factors that influence it.

Cultivating Happiness: Actionable Steps for Your Present Reality

While factors like climate play a role in happiness, our wellbeing is not solely beholden to sunshine and warm breezes. Here are some practical steps you can take to cultivate happiness at your present location.

9 Steps to Happiness

  • Find your faith: Studies have proven that religious belief and practice is a source of happiness.
  • Strengthen existing relationships: Work to strengthen and bring meaning to relationships with friends and loved ones. Regularly engage in activities you enjoy together, express appreciation, and offer support.
  • Expand your social circle: Consider joining groups, volunteering, or taking classes to meet new people who share your interests. Building a wider social network can provide additional sources of support and joy.
  • Focus on gratitude: Keep a journal of things you’re thankful for, or make a point to share them daily with loved ones.
  • Engage in mindfulness: Simple things like deep breathing or meditation can reduce stress and help develop inner peace. Numerous apps and guided meditations are available online and in libraries.
  • Nurture your physical health: Regular exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep are all important for both physical and mental wellbeing. Discover the things you enjoy and make a balanced lifestyle a priority.
  • Explore your passions: Dedicate time to activities you find intrinsically rewarding, whether it is art, music, learning a new skill, or volunteering.
  • Set meaningful goals: Having personal goals to strive for can provide direction and motivation. Goals that are specific and achievable will raise your chances of success.
  • Consider therapy: If you are struggling to manage your emotions or find it difficult to implement these steps, seeking professional help is a courageous and worthwhile investment. Therapists can provide personalized guidance, support, and strategies to help you achieve greater happiness and well-being.

Happiness is Always Possible

Again, the concept of happiness is complex. It is influenced by a multitude of factors, such as socioeconomic conditions, individual personality traits, cultural context, and access to healthcare and resources. Individual differences factor into one’s mental health as well. Therefore, if happiness is the goal, it is not a simple, quick fix. It is trial and error and a hunt for that which truly impacts your life satisfaction.

Since the path to happiness is an unfolding adventure, not a fixed point in time, you can learn to love the journey.

Embrace the ups and downs, cherish your growth, and be assured that reaching out for help is a courageous journey toward a more fulfilling life. Enjoy the process cultivating happiness right where you are, one mindful step at a time.

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