Walk in the Park

Sure, living near a park can increase your happiness. But by how much?

A lot, according to a new study in Psychological Science. The researchers estimate that green urban areas provide a life satisfaction boost roughly equivalent to one-fifth to one-quarter of the increase associated with being married or having a job.

Several studies have suggested that people living near green spaces are less anxious and depressed. But these studies generally don’t account for the possible effects of personality. For example, perhaps more upbeat people tend to live in greener places.

To avoid that problem, the study authors analyzed survey data from more than 10,000 people in the UK over an 18-year period, noting changes in the participants’ well-being and health as they moved from place to place. That way, the researchers could compare happiness in the same person while living in a green and not-so-green area. The team also controlled for factors such as crime rates, income level, and the type of housing.

The increase in life satisfaction that came with abundant green space “was equivalent to 28% of the effect of being married rather than unmarried and 21% of being employed rather than unemployed,” the team writes. And policymakers could deliver a big happiness boost to the community by making cities greener, since “[t]he benefits of a marriage, for example, will be fairly localized, whereas the benefits of a park may be universal.” Roberta Kwok | 22 April 2013

Source: White, M.P. et al. 2013. Would you be happier living in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects analysis of panel data. Psychological Science doi: 10.1177/0956797612464659.

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