Two aspects of our taste for good weather are in force in the Spring. First, we enjoy the warmer weather but we have diminishing marginal utility for higher and higher temperatures. Second, we have reference-depenendence: a 40F day feels balmy in March when its been below freezing for the past three months but the same 40F day gives you the chills in May on that day when Winter sends you its final parting gift from the grave.
Given those preferences, here’s how a benevolent Mother Nature would maximize the joy of Spring. Each day raise the temperature by just a little bit. Gobble up the steep part of our utility for warmth but stop before marginal utility declines too much. Then, tomorrow when our reference point adjusts upward pushing the steep part back into play, gobble up those marginal utils again. Repeat. This steady but gradual transition from Winter to Summer would be the hallmark of a benevelont Mother Nature.
But woe is us, here in Chicago our Mother Nature is of a different sort than that. She seems well-acquainted with another aspect of our reference-dependent weather preferences: loss aversion. Drops in temperature hurt more than equal-sized jumps upward. Our Mother has figured out how to exploit this to full effect and minimize the joy of Spring. It all starts in late February when she lays on us a miraculous 60F day right out of nowhere. Our reference points soar. But then we take the plunge back down on the steep side of the loss-aversion curve and the round trip is worse than if we just had another two days of plain old Winter.
And that pattern pretty much repeats until about June 1. Instead of that gradual steady incline our Spring in Chicago is the classic sawtooth pattern, a series of tragicomic episodes in which our reference points are coaxed upward and then smashed back into place like some kind of meteorologic Moe-Curly routine. Thoughts of summer give us the hope to soldier on, but only if in the past year we were lucky enough to have forgotten whom she hands the baton to once the temperature finally settles down: the mosquitos.