Life satisfaction boostA walk in the park might cure your fuzzy brain, but urban green spaces in general seem to have a big impact on the overall mental wellbeing of those who live nearby. At least, that's what a recent long-term study by the University of Exeter shows. The researchers have analyzed data from 5,000 UK households (around 12,000 individuals) gathered between 1991-2008, and they found that people are happier when living in urban areas with greater amounts of green space (they followed people who moved closer and away from green spaces and noted the changes). When compared to living in areas with less green space, the study participants show significantly lower mental distress and significantly higher wellbeing and life satisfaction. This is not too surprising, but it's always nice to have scientific evidence; hopefully urban planners will pay more attention and officials will allocate more resources there.
The effect on mental wellbeing and life satisfaction is pretty big. In fact, it's comparable to so of the things that are generally considered to be significant influences on mental health and happiness:
Dr White compared the scale of the effects of living in a greener area to "big-hitting" life events such as marriage.
"We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married."
The effect was also found to be equivalent to a tenth of the impact of being employed, as opposed to unemployed. (source)
It's even better than it looks at first, because even if it's only 1/3 of the effect of marriage (they obviously mean the average union -- some reduce happiness, but on average they increase it) and 1/10 the effect of gaining employment, a single green space can have an impact on thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. So while the effect on a single person might be smaller, it reaches a lot of people, multiplying the impact.
Here is Dr. Mathew White, one of the authors of the study, explaining what they've done and their findings: