Parks Replicate That Feel-Good Christmas Vibe, Study Reveals

Published on December 12th 2019
A herd of giraffe standing next to a tree
Bottle the excitement and joy created by Christmas and you'd have a product that is the envy of businesses the world over. But it appears mother nature might have beaten commerce to the punch. According to new research, a visit to a park can have a similar mood-boosting impact to the festive season.
Christmas means a lot of things to many people. A gift-wrapped assortment of family get-togethers, charity, tradition, exquisite food, fragrant pines, and other Yuletide trimmings, the holiday season is considered to be one of the most uplifting times of the year.
On Twitter, at least, where conversation can spiral into ugly arguments, there is evidence to suggest that the mere mention of Christmas calms us down.
A Twitter hedonometer - basically a barometer invented by University of Vermont (UVM) scientists to gauge the sentiment of text online - places Christmas Day top of the word happiness pile. The date consistently has the highest occurrence of positive words online.
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A group of people walking in the snow

Happiness index

The hedonometer instrument, described as the Dow Jones index of happiness, has now been used to show the impact nature can have on people’s mindsets. The study makes for positive reading for those who like to get amongst the flowers and the trees.
Harnessing the statistical power of their word meter, scientists from UVM discovered that parks can provide a very similar spike in positivity to that of Christmas. According to the research, the greener the space, the less cranky people seem to be, on the internet at least.
By focusing on people's visits to 160 urban green spaces in San Francisco, the researchers gleaned nearly 5,000 tweets from people geolocated close to public parks.
Scoring the words in the people’s posts before and after their park visits, the scientists were able to assess mood change. The study found a correlation between positive words and being inside or having just experienced a public park.
In total, tweets posted from the urban parks in San Francisco were happier by 0.23 points on the hedonometer scale.
“This increase in sentiment is equivalent to that of Christmas Day for Twitter as a whole in the same year,” the study, published in the British Ecological Society Journal, notes.
To put that scoring into further context, the word ‘laughter’ has an 8.50 score on the scale. Meanwhile, one of the hedonometer's grimmest words, ‘terrorist’, has a score of 1.30.
A sunset over a body of water

Park positivity

“We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks,” says Aaron Schwartz, who led the research. “The effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation.”
Chris Danforth, a UVM professor and part of the team behind the hedonometer, suggested that the reasons why a walk in the park improved moods was difficult to nail down.
However, the mathematician indicated there is a trend showing links between nature and improved moods. Indeed, the positive relationship between mental health and green spaces is something we’ve covered before.
“Being in nature offers restorative benefits on dimensions not available for purchase in a store, or downloadable on a screen,” Danforth said.
“While we don’t address causality in our study, we do find that negative language - like ‘not,’ ‘no,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t’ - decreased in the period immediately after visits to urban parks,” he added.
So there you have it, nature is Christmas come early. To keep the good vibes flowing, it might be worth prescribing yourself with a stroll in the local park in 2020.
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