City parks create a ‘happiness spike’ equivalent to Thanksgiving, scientists discover

City parks create a ‘happiness spike’ equivalent to Thanksgiving, scientists discover
Scientists ranked the 25 happiest city parks in America

If you’re in pursuit of happiness, one simple solution is a stroll in the park.

That’s the conclusion of a sweeping new study which measured the happiness effects of city parks in America’s 25 largest cities.

The happiness benefit provided by nature for city dwellers was so strong that it was roughly equivalent to the mood spike people experience on holidays like Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day, scientists discovered.

And that happiness uptick from city parks was experienced not just during summer holidays and weekends but throughout the year and across every season.

Indianapolis, Indiana topped the list of the places where city parks make people happiest, followed by Austin, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Jacksonville, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois.

The researchers noted their surprise that places like Indianapolis, Austin and Jacksonville topped the list, considering these cities receive less funding for their public parks compared to other places.

More than park funding, the chance for people to immerse themselves in larger green spaces led to more happiness. The benefits were highest in parks of more than 100 acres, followed by parks one to ten acres in size.

The new research, published on Wednesday, is the largest study of its kind and is based on huge amounts of data pulled from social media.

“These new findings underscore just how essential nature is for our mental and physical health,” said University of Vermont scientist, Taylor Ricketts, who was part of the research team.

“These results are especially timely given our increased reliance on urban natural areas during the COVID pandemic.”

The research project grew out of a smaller study on San Francisco, California which relied on the unorthodox approach of analyzing Twitter posts and geolocation data to quantify people’s happiness in nature.

The team used a similar approach to look at parks across America’s largest cities, based on population size.

The team broaden the scope of the initial social media sample and analysed 1.5 million Twitter posts for differences in online sentiment, comparing tweets posted inside city parks to those posted elsewhere.

In parks, people were more likely to post tweets with positive words like “beautiful,” “fun,” “enjoying,” and “amazing” as opposed to negative words such as “hate,” “don’t,” and “not.”

Study co-author Aaron Schwartz noted the irony in using Twitter, with its reputation for “doom-scrolling”, in order to measure happiness.

“But our goal is to use technology for the greater good – to better understand the effect nature has on humans, which until now has been difficult to quantify in such large numbers,” he said.

The rankings on where people find the most happiness from city parks

  1. Indianapolis
  2. Austin
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Jacksonville
  5. Chicago
  6. Dallas
  7. Memphis
  8. Denver
  9. New York
  10. San Diego
  11. San Francisco
  12. Philadelphia
  13. Phoenix
  14. San Jose
  15. Detroit
  16. Seattle
  17. San Antonio
  18. Houston
  19. Fort Worth
  20. Washington
  21. Columbus
  22. Charlotte
  23. Boston
  24. El Paso
  25. Baltimore