Study: Parks make people as happy as Christmas

When it comes to lifting one's mood, a little greenery goes a long way. (Great Smoky Mountains National Park via Facebook)
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX/Gray News) Spending some time outside in a park can pick up your mood as much as Christmas Day - that's according to a new study out this week from the University of Vermont.

The study looked at reactions on Twitter from 4,700 users in San Francisco. Researchers found that when people were visiting the city’s 160 parks, they used more positive language than they did before the visit.

The increase in sentiment equals that of Christmas Day for Twitter as a whole in the same year, the study said.

“This kind of indicates that people may be getting out of this negative frame of mind that they might be in in their day-to-day life, and going to the parks might provide a kind of stress relief,” said Aaron Schwartz, a Ph.D. student at the University of Vermont, who co-authored the study.

Schwartz is studying the impact of urban parks and trying to quantify their benefits. Twitter was an easy way to get hundreds of reactions from a wide range of people, he said, but he admits it isn’t a perfect set of data.

"You're not getting an exact picture of someone's happiness. You're trying to infer it based on the words they're writing," Schwartz said.

But he says it’s part of a larger body of work pointing to mental and physical benefits of urban parks, and the greener the park, the better.

When asked how his research applies to a smaller city, he said he wouldn’t expect to see as big of a mood swing there because people are more used to green spaces.

Down the line, he said he hopes to expand his research to include other large cities to see if climate makes a difference.

When University of Vermont student Emma Radeka is on summer break, she works at Oakledge Park.

"This place becomes a ritual for people and a routine in their daily life to kind of escape after work," said the student from Middletown, Rhode Island.

There’s one thing she notices a lot - smiles.

"I can safely say I have only ever heard one angry person at Oakledge, and it was someone on the phone yelling at someone," Radeka said.

Her friend and fellow student Carrie Finkelstein is from Philadelphia, who agrees that people look happier in parks.

Finkelstein said in the city, parks give people a break. And when her friends visit Vermont, they notice the green space here.

“They also tend to go immediately to Instagram and post it and go, ‘Oh, it’s so green,’ because it’s just something that’s universally recognized as a positive thing and as sort of an escape, as well,” Finkelstein said.

Vermont actually has a program to encourage people to get out into state parks because of the mental and physical health benefits of being outdoors.

The program gives healthcare providers around the state “prescriptions” that they can write for a free voucher to a Vermont State Park.

The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation said they send out about 12,000 a year to doctors. About 750 get used.

They said even if people don’t end up using the voucher, it’s important that they hear the message that being outdoors is good for you.

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