There is a large and growing body of evidence for the benefits to people of spending time in nature, particularly in terms of their mental well-being. For World Mental Health Day we collated some of the key ideas from our recent publications on the impact of nature on our well-being and how different management decisions could affect that well-being.

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.

Nature and happiness: The greener the park, the happier people are on social media
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. This study investigates how visiting a park increases happiness and finds evidence for a “post-visit glow”: the effect lasting up to 4 hours after the initial park visit.

The impact of nature on our well-being: Does saltmarsh provide relaxing views?
This study presents a framework to link components of the natural world to human well-being in all aspects of our lives. Coastal saltmarsh habitat is used as a case study to apply the framework, highlighting the information we lack about saltmarsh and how different management decisions could affect human well-being. It finds that positive effects from nature have a large impact on individuals from local to global scales, while negative effects are more likely to occur locally, affecting individuals on site. The proposed framework also helps explain the complex area of the linkages between human wellbeing and nature. It is also a useful tool to guide environmental decision-making and management decisions from the local to the national level, particularly when involving sectors such as the health and social services.

What determines how we see nature? Perceptions of naturalness in designed urban green spaces
Now most of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, many people access ‘nature’ in designed urban green spaces, parks, and gardens with varying degrees of naturalness. Parks and gardens are designed and maintained to provide spaces for people and to support wildlife, yet it is not known what the public think about parks with these different levels of naturalness. This study investigates how to inform policymakers and practitioners delivering urban nature for people. The findings show that to create attractive places supportive of human well-being, policymakers and practitioners need not place too much emphasis on intense levels of maintenance, as naturalness is viewed positively.