Green spaces in cities are a key happiness booster, suggests a recent study published in the Journal of Psychological Science.Researchers came to this conclusion by analyzing data from a national survey that followed United Kingdom households for 17 years between 1991 and 2008. Among the more than 10,000 individuals surveyed, participants with more access to green space reported greater well-being and life satisfaction than those without access to parks and gardens. Even when controlling for other happiness factors, greener spaces were linked with lowered mental distress and improved life satisfaction.
What does this mean for your city? It means city planners worldwide may put more weight and more public funds behind green space improvement. "These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, e.g. for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what 'bang' they'll get for their buck," study researcher Dr. Mathew White of the University of Exeter Medical School said in a statement.
The assertion that green space is important for human happiness isn't new. But the Exeter study is the first to rule out other causes for happiness differences. By comparing data over such a long period of time, Exeter was able to control other possibilities for causation. The study accounted for changes over time in participants’ income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type. Green spaces still held up as a happiness booster. In fact, they accounted for about a tenth of the amount of happiness boost from employment versus joblessness. It's even up there with major well-being events like marriage.
“We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on well-being, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married,” Dr. White said.
Dr. White cautions that the study doesn't conclusively prove green space is a happiness booster. The study does, however, bolster other studies' findings about green space and happiness. An experimental study published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology in 2010 showed that short periods of time in a green space can improve people’s mood and cognitive functioning.
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Image: Gary Bridgman