July 6, 2022

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Green spaces in urban areas give a significant happiness boost, study finds

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Whether you are in New York or Los Angeles, finding a green city park can improve your mood, according to a new study into urban nature.

A team from the University of Vermont found that the bigger the city park, the happier it will make you, with residents of Indianapolis boosted the most by parks. 

They measured the happiness effects of city parks in the 25 largest U.S. cities, and found that the benefit of urban nature on users was roughly equivalent to the mood spike people experience on holidays like Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day.

To come to their conclusions, the scientists used massive amounts of data from social media in order to quantify the mood boosting benefits of urban nature.

‘These new findings underscore just how essential nature is for our mental and physical health,’ said lead author Taylor Ricketts, adding ‘the results are timely given our increased reliance on urban natural areas during the COVID pandemic.’

Urban nature should be protected, expanded and made as accessible as possible, the team said, as they are the only source of nature for millions of people. 

Whether you are in New York (pictured) or Los Angeles, finding a green city park can improve your mood, according to a new study into urban nature. Stock image

The team built on work they carried out in San Francisco, using twitter posts and geolocation data to quantify the happiness benefit that people get from nature.

They expanded the work to focus on the 25 largest US cities by population, and included 1.5 million Twitter posts to measure online sentiment.

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The tweets included those inside city pars, near city parks and those posted away from the park and in the city more generally. 

Researchers found a powerful happiness benefit from city parks, which was present across all seasons, months, weeks, days, and times of the day.

They had expected a boost at weekends and summer holidays, so were supplied to see it was consistent throughout the year.

‘We understand the irony of using Twitter and technology to measure happiness from nature,’ says lead author and PhD student Aaron Schwartz, noting Twitter’s reputation for ‘doom-scrolling.’ 

A team from the University of Vermont found that the bigger the city park, the happier it will make you, with residents of Indianapolis (pictured) boosted the most by parks. Stock image

A team from the University of Vermont found that the bigger the city park, the happier it will make you, with residents of Indianapolis (pictured) boosted the most by parks. Stock image

‘But our goal is to use technology for the greater good—to better understand the effect nature has on humans, which until now has been difficult to quantify in such large numbers.’

Researchers found that U.S. cities differed a lot in the size of the happiness benefit that their parks provided to users, with Indianapolis offering the biggest boost. 

Scientists were surprised by several top ranked cities in the study – including Indianapolis, Austin and Jacksonville – which have lower per capita funding levels for parks compared to some other cities on the list.

While people wrote far happier tweets in parks – words like ‘beautiful,’ ‘fun,’ ‘enjoying,’ and ‘amazing’ – these top ranked cities saw people write dramatically fewer negative words on Twitter in parks – such as ‘hate,’ ‘don’t,’ and ‘not.’

A more powerful predictor of happiness than park funding per capita was park size., with the happiness benefit highest in parks over 100 acres in area.

‘Being in nature offers restorative benefits not available for purchase in a store, or downloadable on a screen,’ says UVM’s Chris Danforth.

‘However, not all parks appear to be equal when it comes to happiness. The ability to immerse yourself in a larger, greener natural areas had a greater effect than smaller paved city parks.’

One explanation the researchers proposed is that larger parks provide greater opportunities for mental restoration and separation from city environments.   

The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE. 

HOW HAPPY DOES YOUR CITY PARK MAKE YOU? MOST HIGHLY POPULATED CITIES RANKED BY PARK HAPPINESS RATING 

Researchers found that U.S. cities differed a lot in the size of the happiness benefit that their parks provided to users:

  1. Indianapolis 
  2. Austin 
  3. Los Angeles 
  4. Jacksonville 
  5. Chicago 
  6. Dallas 
  7. Memphis 
  8. Denver 
  9. New York 
  10. San Diego 
  11. San Francisco 
  12. Philadelphia 
  13. Phoenix 
  14. San Jose 
  15. Detroit 
  16. Seattle 
  17. San Antonio 
  18. Houston 
  19. Fort Worth 
  20. Washington 
  21. Columbus 
  22. Charlotte 
  23. Boston 
  24. El Paso 
  25. Baltimore 
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