Urban parks and green space increase visitor happiness levels

Julian Tineo | The Ticker

Julian Tineo | The Ticker

A recent study published by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that spending time in green spaces such as urban parks can improve a person’s emotional well-being.

The study, which was conducted and written by Hon K. Yuen and Gavin R. Jenkins of the University’s department of occupational therapy, came to the conclusion that just 20 minutes spent in nature can increase a parkgoer’s happiness.

In the experiment, 94 adult participants told the facilitators of the study about their emotional state through a brief questionnaire before visiting one of the three main urban parks in Mountain Brook, Alabama. They wore accelerometers while in the park to track their physical activity.

After leaving one of the parks, they filled out the questionnaire again, which was composed of a section about the participants’ background and another component on subjective well-being to determine how their time in the green space affected their mood.

The surveys assessed participants’ self-proclaimed life satisfaction using a seven-point scale that ranked statements based on how much they agreed with them.

The result was that time spent in natural areas such as a city park did in fact improve the participants’ state of well-being and life satisfaction, making them feel calmer and happier afterward.

The most interesting thing about the study was that emotional well-being improved in participants who did not partake in physical activity, showing that exercise had not made much of an effect on reported levels of happiness.

Yuen and Jenkins’ study corroborated ideas already put forth in other researchers’ studies, such as in the article “The importance of green space for mental health,” written by University of Essex, School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences professors Jo Barton and Mike Rogerson.

According to their study, which was published in November 2017 in the PubMed Central database, the closer a person lives to a green space or the more time they spend in one has been shown to correlate to an increase in their positive mental state.

“Global [urbanization] has reduced access to and engagement with green space, but there is good evidence of a positive relationship between levels of neighborhood greenspace and mental health and well-being,” the article states. “Individuals have less mental distress, less anxiety and depression, greater wellbeing and healthier cortisol profiles when living in urban areas with more greenspace compared with less greenspace.” This means spending time in parks can be beneficial to a person’s mental health. 

In a time during which “self-care” is a trend on social media, this knowledge adds to the generally accepted list of stress-coping mechanisms, like time spent with friends or practicing yoga.

This is especially true for college students, such as those at Baruch College, who often have to deal with stressors such as exams, papers, internships and familial obligations on a constant basis.

Taking a 25-minute break from studying by walking to and around Madison Square Park, just a mere two blocks away from Baruch, can actually help reduce students’ stress levels and promote their mental
well-being.