When you’re travelling from certain places, everyone you meet in the new place is impressed. You’re from Ohs-tralia? , Americans inevitably exclaim. I’ve always wanted to go there! Either that, or they express a mystifying desire to visit New Zealand, and the conversation dies.
While on the road lately I’ve been answering the question of where I’m from with, Washington, DC. And unless the person I’m encountering is an aspiring politician or political enthusiast – which no one is these days, because have you read the news? – their response tends towards the unimpressed.
On a trip to Los Angeles this month, I was unnerved when the concierge at my hotel reacted to my provenance with unabashed excitement. I love Washington! she said, explaining that her adopted city’s obscenely perfect weather was, at times, tedious. The four seasons are what I miss, she mused as our faces glowed in the soft afternoon sunshine. Meanwhile, my phone beeped: there was a hurricane warning in Washington, and a heat advisory that same day. In the nation’s capital, spring had once again passed her sodden baton on to an angry summer.
A longing for four seasons is something you hear in California from East Coast transplants, and it makes no sense to me. Who needs seasons when it’s lovely year-round? San Francisco, in northern California, has similarly consistent weather to its southern sibling, albeit slightly cooler. A light breeze and 19 degrees is something I could get used to. Forget flowers in your hair, though. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to carry a light cardigan.
On my trip to Los Angeles there was no need for a light cardigan, even in spring, which is a light cardigan’s time to shine. I was in LA for 48 hours, and the sun was out for precisely 24 of those.
Because one inevitably leaves LA in a great mood, I’d assumed that people in sunnier places are happier. Apparently I’m not alone: 11 per cent of Americans have reportedly moved because they wanted better weather. It turns out that the link between sunshine and happiness is complicated. That has to be good news for readers of this column in Sydney, where I’m told the sun recently entered the realm of the apocryphal.
Sunshine does trigger an increase in serotonin levels, and that can improve our mood; equally, seasonal affective disorder is real, as many who have lived through dark northern-hemisphere winters can attest. Researchers have discovered, though, that while people in sunny climes are happier than those in cold ones during their autumn and winter, the pattern reverses in spring. That is, it’s the change in the season that really kicks up happiness levels.
This must be what the hotel concierge meant when she said she missed the four seasons. Not because she misses puffy coats and tears freezing to ice on her face, but because when bad weather turns good, that’s when you know you’re truly alive.
Changeable weather also, frankly, gives you something to talk about. That could be why Los Angeles residents are stereotyped as superficial and vapid. Denied the opportunity to complain about the weather, they’re forced to talk instead about faces, clothes and fame. Then again, Washington has been called Hollywood for ugly people. Perhaps I doth protest too much.
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