Visits to city parks boosts people’s happiness to Christmas-like levels, finds a University of Vermont study led by Aaron Schwartz (left) and Chris Danforth (right) that pairs social media and spatial analysis. Photo credit: Andy Duback/Gund UVM.

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Interacting with nature is an essential human experience that provides a variety of benefits. Cities offer public spaces across a spectrum of “naturalness” including tree-lined plazas, playgrounds and ballfields, and larger forested parks. With more and more people living in cities each year, understanding whether and how time in nature can impact happiness is increasingly important. In this study, we investigate how visiting a park is related to happiness.

The words people write on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be a window into their moods. We gathered tweets posted before, during, and after visits to 160 San Francisco parks over 3 months. We then analyzed these tweets with the Hedonometer, an established tool that provides a happiness score from 1-9 for the 10,000 most commonly used English words.

We found that tweets posted in parks were significantly happier than tweets posted by the same users before their visits. How much happier? The increase was equivalent to the difference between average happiness on Twitter and happiest day of the year: Christmas. We also found intriguing evidence for a “post-visit glow”: the effect lasted up to 4 hours after the initial park visit. Our findings indicate that bigger and greener parks are potentially best for improving happiness, and that we should prioritize increasing access to these kinds of spaces for everyone.