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Happy states recover fastest

Happy states have weaker recessions and faster recoveries than less optimistic states, according to new research. The effect is strongest where populations are older, less educated, and less socially connected.

Grace Nelson (left), Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida (center), and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California share a laugh as they take an airboat tour Sept. 7, 2007, in the Florida Everglades. New research suggests that states with warm weather, lots of sunshine, and a happy outlook have shorter recessions and faster recoveries than other states.

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File

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If you're happy and you know it…your state's probably going to recover from the recession more quickly.

That's the finding of new research that determines that economic recessions are weaker, expansions are stronger, and recovery is faster in U.S. states where people are more optimistic. And, the effect is stronger in states where people are older, less educated and less socially connected, according to the research from University of Miami School of Business Administration.

The study findings are particularly unique because they reflect a cause and effect between happiness and economic prosperity, not an effect where economic prosperity is making people happier.

"Previous studies have shown that economic conditions affect mood — people would expect this, it's more obvious," said Alok Kumar, the Gabelli Asset Management Professor of Finance at the University of Miami School of Business and one of the study's researchers. "Our study is unique in that it shows, for the first time, that mood and optimism can directly affect overall economic activity."

In order to determine the link between mood and economic conditions, Kumar, along with Vidhi Chhaochharia and George Korniotis, assistant professors of finance, used several factors to measure mood, optimism and pessimism not influenced by the economic environment. The factors are:

  • Weather: Average temperature and cloud cover. Sunny weather triggers the release of serotonin in the brain that causes people to be more alert and cheerful. The opposite is true for bad weather because it releases melatonin that makes people feel tired and down.
  • Political affiliation and climate: The level of optimism is greater in a region where the local population favors the political parties in power.
  • Sports-related optimism: People are likely to be more optimistic if their local sports teams have performed well.
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With these factors in mind, the researchers then studied how mood in a state affects local economic activity. To measure local economic performance, they created a novel index based on state housing conditions, the difference between state unemployment and national unemployment, and income growth. Here are the key findings:

  • Peoples' overall good mood and positive outlook can make the impact of a recession weaker, shorter in length and easier to get over;
  • Moderate optimism induced by the weather is good for the local economy. A state that is 10 degrees warmer experiences increased economic activity that, on average, is 26 percent stronger. It also experiences recessions that are, on average, 33 percent weaker;
  • Mood affects local economic activity in part because it leads to higher retail sales.

These results are surprising because they imply that the economy is affected by non-economic, psychological factors, the researchers said.

  • The impact of mood on economic activity is greater in states where people are older, less educated, less socially connected and therefore more prone to the psychological effects of mood.

"One policy implication of our study is that the development of sports-related infrastructures, like new sports stadiums or other factors that could affect the performance of local sports teams, is certainly something to consider as a way to make a real impact on a local economy for a relatively low cost," Kumar said.


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