Santa Claus has competition when it comes to eliciting smiles on Christmas morning. New research found a visit to a park lifts a person's mood similar to how they feel on 25 December.
For a three month span, scientists from the University of Vermont studied hundreds of tweets on Twitter that people posted from 160 parks located in San Francisco and found people expressed feelings of happiness when visiting the parks. The study, published in People and Nature, discovered the effect was the strongest in large regional parks that have a lot of tree cover and vegetation. In smaller parks, there was a smaller spike in a person's mood with people getting the least lift from civic plazas and squares that are mostly paved.
The bigger the park the happier people are
"We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks," said Aaron Schwartz, a UVM graduate student who led the new research in a press release. "In cities, big green spaces are very important for people's sense of well-being."
According to the researchers this study is important because most of the focus of conservation has been on how much money was saved by restoring say a wetland and less on the health benefits of public parks. "This study is part of a new wave of research that expands beyond monetary benefits to quantify the direct health benefits of nature. What's even more innovative here is our focus on mental health benefits --which have been really underappreciated and understudied," said Taylor Ricketts, a co-author of the study and director of the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont.
Researchers relied on a hedonometer to analyze park tweets
In order to assess the feelings based on tweets, the researchers used a hedonometer which was invented by a team at the university and the MITRE Corp. The tool gathers and analyzes billions of tweets dating back more than a decade and has already prompted several research papers. It uses about 10,000 common words that were scored by volunteers to ascertain the emotions attached to particular words. Using the scores, the team of scientists collected about fifty million tweets and tossed into a bucket to determine the average happiness score.
For the park study, the researchers used tweets from 4,688 people who identified their location publicly. That enabled the researchers to determine which parks the tweets were emanating from. Tweets posted from urban parks in San Franciso expressed happiness by 0.23 points on the hedonometer scale over the baseline. "This increase in sentiment is equivalent to that of Christmas Day for Twitter as a whole in the same year," the scientists wrote in the research.