Parks May Lift Mood As Much As Christmas

Feeling unhappy and cranky? The treatment: Take a walk under some trees in the park.

That may not be the exact prescription from your doctor, but a study shows that visitors to urban parks use happier words and express less negativity on Twitter than they did before their visit—and that their elevated mood lasts for up to four hours afterward.

The effect is so strong—scientists from the University of Vermont (UVM) discovered—that the increase in happiness from a visit to an outpost of urban nature is equivalent to the mood spike on Christmas, by far the happiest day each year on Twitter.

The study was published in People and Nature.

For three months, the scientists studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco. “We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks,” said Aaron Schwartz, a UVM graduate student who led the research, “but the effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation.” Smaller neighborhood parks showed a smaller spike in positive mood, and mostly paved civic plazas
and squares showed the least mood elevation.

In other words, it’s not just getting out of work or being outside that brings a positive boost: The study shows that greener areas with more vegetation have the biggest impact.

“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,” said Chris Danforth, PhD, a professor at UVM’s Complex Systems Center and a co-author on the study.

This article was adapted from information provided by UVM.

IMAGE: By Heather Swanson.

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