We already knew this but finding scientific confirmation and explanation is interesting nevertheless. It is widely accepted that substances called endocannaboids (ECs) regulate mood; increased levels are associated with anxiety and depression and decreased levels with positive moods.
The Academic Wino summarizes a report by a group of Dutch researchers that assessed whether endocannaboid levels were influenced by ambiance and wine consumption during a meal.
28 healthy Dutch women between the ages of 18 and 45 … were asked to consume three glasses of white sparkling wine and three glasses of alcohol-free white sparkling wine with a meal under pleasant or unpleasant ambiance (though not all at once). Every participant experiences each of the 4 scenarios at one time during the study, with one scenario occurring each week.
The pleasant room had colorful décor, soft lighting, soft music, and included a short, happy clip from Bambi and the Lion King. The unpleasant room had bright lights, no music, a full trashcan, no décor and plastic dishes and utensils; and the scene from Bambi and the Lion King in which Bambi’s mother dies. The participants were surveyed during the experience to help gauge their mood.
Overall, the results of this study showed for the first time that the endocannaboid system is influenced by ambiance during and after a meal. The specific ECs PEA and SEA were found to increase in an unpleasant ambiance which correlated strongly with tension and depression scores. In other words, the unpleasant environment stressed the participants out, which resulted in a physiological response by the endocannaboid system.
The influence of the wine was mixed:
…consuming alcohol basically made the unpleasant environment a little more tolerable, as noted in the increase in happiness score by those consuming alcohol in the unpleasant environment compared with those drinking the alcohol-free wine in the same environment. Interestingly, consuming the wine in the pleasant environment did not improve happiness any more than it already was after consuming the non-alcoholic wine in the same environment. The results then would seem to suggest that alcohol makes a crappy environment better, while it won’t make you any happier than you would have been already in the nice environment.
No word on what sparkling wines were served—I’m sure a nice grower Champagne would have boosted everyone’s mood.
This is interesting because it suggests that everyday aesthetics is a crucial component of happiness.