Cleaner Air, Happier Life

Waking up in the morning and getting a glimpse of the warm sunlight beaming through your bedroom window is almost always a perfect way to start your day. Similarly, if it’s a rainy, dreary atmosphere, you may be hesitant to get out of bed, much less find the motivation to finish your to-do list. Well, according to researchers, who reported their findings in Nature Human Behaviour, there may be scientific evidence that proves air pollution, as well as the weather, can take a psychological toll on humans.

China is ranked number one in the world’s top three most polluted countries, with the United States following in second place and India ranked as third. Researchers wanted to see if there was a link between pollution and the mental state of citizens in China by analyzing social media posts. According to an analysis of 210 million posts on the Chinese social media site, Sina Weibo, comparable to Twitter in the United States, people tend to be less happy when the air is polluted. The researchers gathered data on daily pollution levels in each city and decided to plug this information into equations in order to show how pollution affects the day-to-day lives as well as the level of happiness of inhabitants of China. The researchers analyzed Weibo posts daily along with the city’s overall air quality index (AQI) and a variety of other individual pollutants; focusing specifically on PM2.5, a fine particulate matter that can harm lung health, because it was the primary pollutant during the nine-month study period. The results found that when overall pollution related to AQI declined by one standard deviation, the happiness index increased by 0.046. When there was a one standard deviation decrease in PM2.5 concentrations, there was a 0.043 standard deviation increase of happiness according to the avid users of Weibo. The results of the study showed that the correlation is small but significant.

Logo for Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging social media platform popular in China

Weather seemed to be a big factor as well. Air pollution affected the happiness of these individuals more on cloudy days than on clear days, and more on too hot or too cold days as opposed to a more comfortable temperature. Although elderly people were not considered as much in the study, due to their lack of social media usage, the Chinese government considers the social media users to be important because they tend to be a younger and higher educated group. If there is a possibility that air pollution correlates with their mental health, the government may be inclined to enforce more environmental regulations; a win for the environment!

Therefore, thanks to these innovative researchers, the next time you are unhappy, anxious, content, cheerful, or feeling any other emotion, take a look outside and see what the weather is like or try to go online and check air pollution levels in your area. Because there may be a previously unforeseen reason for your current emotional state.

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