Study Finds Spending Time in Parks Boosts Mood Even More Than Christmas

It's time to get some fresh air!

If you could use a little Christmas spirit right about now, but can't wait until December for it, there's a pretty easy solution you probably haven't thought of. According to a new study, the pathway to positivity may actually be closer than you think. The new research, published in the journal People and Nature, found that a simple stroll through your local park can elevate your mood even more than Christmas.

Over the course of three months, University of Vermont researchers studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco and evaluated the happiness levels of the language used on a scale of 1 to 9. They found that, overall, people used much more positive vocabulary once they were in parks than before they entered them, and the effect seemed to last for up to four hours afterwards.

According to the researchers, the tweets posted from urban parks in San Francisco were happier by 0.23 points over the baseline. "This increase in sentiment is equivalent to that of Christmas Day for Twitter as a whole," the study authors noted.

While any park seemed to create at uptick in mood, the impact was especially pronounced in larger parks that included plenty of greenery and flowers. These spaces achieved a score of 6.43, which means they slightly best Christmas, when the language used in tweets scores a 6.26.

"This is the first study that uses Twitter to examine how user sentiment changes before, during, and after visits to different types of parks," Aaron Schwartz, a graduate fellow at the University of Vermont's Gund Insititute for Environment and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "In cities, big green spaces are very important for people's sense of wellbeing."

According to Gund Institute director and study co-author Taylor Ricketts, this latest research adds to a growing body of evidence that indicates urban natural areas are "central to promoting mental health." Indeed, one 2015 study found that spending time in a park reduces the blood flow to the part of the prefrontal cortex in the brain associated with negative thought patterns. Exposure to nature has also been found to increase social characteristics like agreeableness, perspective-taking, and empathy.

So, if a park is on your way home from work, consider taking a pleasant stroll through it instead of bypassing it via car or public transportation. It might just make you happier than a six-year-old finding a puppy under the Christmas tree! And for more on how nature affects our wellbeing, check out the 8 Amazing Benefits of Having Flowers in Your Home.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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