New Research Proves Green Spaces Make Urbanites Happier

A few years ago, a book came out called Blinded by Science in which the author offered scientific evidence that trees could help alleviate a number of ailments, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, mood swings, and headaches. One of the cited studies noted, “safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs in treating some forms of mental illnesses.” Hug a tree, save a life... as it were.

It comes as no surprise, then, that subsequent research has come to a similar conclusion. Focusing in on city dwellers, the new findings published in Psychological Science conclude that people who live in green-tinged urban areas score higher in well-being than residents who have fewer parks and trees nearby. The research -- conducted at the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School using 18 years of data from a national survey of UK households -- looked at more than just the 10,000 participants' mental and physical health to discover positive changes in employment, income, marital status, and housing associated with more access to green space.

Investigating the impacts of urban green spaces on wellbeing from ECEHH on Vimeo.

Having a job and getting married are both notable drivers for happiness. Now we know that flower power is almost as potent. People who live in greener urban areas enjoy mental health boosts estimated at roughly 12 percent and 35 percent as significant as being employed and married, respectively. When it comes to contributing to "life satisfaction," green space comes in at 21 percent of employment and 28 percent of marriage. (Though the research does not touch on this specifically, some might argue that a healthy love affair with a tree might actually surpass the benefits of an unhealthy marriage.)

It's worth noting that the study found no increase in well-being associated with a neighborhood's crime or income levels.

While none of this is really news to people who love the great outdoors -- even if, by "great outdoors" they mean "pocket park" -- the real takeaway here is for urban planners. Lead researcher Matthew White observed, “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.”

The report goes on to state: 

Urbanisation is considered a potential threat to mental health and well-being and although effects at the individual level are small, this study demonstrates that the potential benefit at a population level should be an important consideration in policies aiming to protect and promote urban green spaces for well-being.

In the end, having a good job and a good marriage are still wonderfully beneficial for the people who have them; but having a nice, green space nearby is wonderfully beneficial for everyone in the community.

Read the full report here... while you sit in the nearest park, of course.

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Photo credit: Stuck in Customs / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA.

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