Why life really should be a walk in the park: Green areas boost moods as much as Christmas Day and make people happier and less self-absorbed

  • For three months, a University of Vermont team studied hundreds of tweets
  • These were all  posted from 160 different parks inside San Francisco, California
  • Researchers found that elevated mood lasted – ‘like a glow’ – for up to four hours  

A trip to the park boosts people’s happiness by a similar amount as Christmas Day, according to a new study.

The more trees and vegetation at the park, the bigger the mood-boosting effect, researchers said.

Looking at flowers was one of the key things that brought joy to park visitors.

In the study visitors to parks and cities used happier words and expressed less negativity on Twitter than they did before their visit.

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Mood elevation: For three months, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont in the US studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco

Mood elevation: For three months, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont in the US studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco

WHAT DID THEY FIND? 

For three months, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont in the US studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco.

People showed greatest happiness in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation.

Smaller neighbourhood parks also boosted mood, although less so.

Paved civic squares led to the lowest mood elevation.

Researchers also found that that their elevated mood lasted – ‘like a glow’ – for up to four hours afterwards.

The effect is so strong that the increase in happiness from a visit to an outpost of urban nature is equivalent to the mood spike on Christmas, found to be the happiest day each year on Twitter.

The researchers argue parks should get a greater priority from urban planners because of their effects on mental health.

For three months, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont in the US studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco.

Aaron Schwartz, who led the research, said: ‘We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks. But the effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation.’ 

People visiting smaller neighbourhood parks showed a smaller rise in positive mood, and paved civic squares led to the lowest mood elevation Mr Schwartz said one of the words that shows the biggest spike in use in tweets from parks is ‘flowers.’ 

Co-author Professor Taylor Ricketts said: ‘In cities, big green spaces are very important for people’s sense of well-being.

‘We’re seeing more and more evidence that it’s central to promoting mental health.’ 

The happiness of tweets was evaluated by using a ‘hedonometer’ – an online tool that rates the happiness of 10,000 common words in terms of happiness and sadness on a scale of one (happiest) to nine (saddest).

For example ‘happy’ itself ranked 8.30 and ‘hahaha’ 7.94 while neutral words such as ‘trapped’ 3.08, ‘crash’ 2.60, and ‘jail’ 1.76. ‘Flowers’ scored 7.56.

Mood measured in tweet content: People visiting smaller neighbourhood parks showed a smaller rise in positive mood, and paved civic squares led to the lowest mood elevation

Mood measured in tweet content: People visiting smaller neighbourhood parks showed a smaller rise in positive mood, and paved civic squares led to the lowest mood elevation

Mood measured in tweet content: People visiting smaller neighbourhood parks showed a smaller rise in positive mood, and paved civic squares led to the lowest mood elevation

Using the scores, the team collects more than 50 million tweets from around the world each day before calculating the average happiness score.

Overall, the tweets posted from the urban parks in San Francisco were happier by a dramatic 0.23 points on the hedonometer scale over the baseline.

Professor Ricketts said: ‘This increase in sentiment is equivalent to that of Christmas Day for Twitter as a whole in the same year.’ 

Professor Chris Danforth, of Vermont, said: ‘Being in nature offers restorative benefits on dimensions not available for purchase in a store, or downloadable on a screen.’ 

Professor Danforth added: ‘While we don’t address causality in our study, we do find that negative language – like ‘not,’ ‘no,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t,’ – decreased in the period immediately after visits to urban parks, offering specific linguistic markers of the mood boost available outside.’ 

Conversely, he said the study shows that the use of first-person pronouns – ‘I’ and ‘me’- drops off dramatically in parks, perhaps indicating ‘a shift from individual to collective mental frame.’ 

The findings were published in the journal People and Nature.

 

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