Will Living in a Greener Urban Setting Make You Happier?

A well-known song encourages us to “don’t worry, be happy.” When it comes to living in cities, we better worry about the quality of our green space if we want to be happy according to recent research.  A study by researchers Mathew White, Ian Alcock, Benedict W. Wheeler, and Michael H. Depledg at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health published in the April 2013 journal Psychological Science finds that people who live in areas with more green space show significantly lower mental distress (GHQ scores) and significantly higher well-being (life satisfaction). The study draws on over 18 years of data from 10,000 participants.

Flowers in Memorial Gardens near downtown Concord, NC offer an escape from the city.

Flowers in Memorial Gardens near downtown Concord, NC offer an escape from the city.
Photo by Mark Ellison

The analysis also  compared the beneficial effects of green space with other factors which influence well-being.  Living in an area with higher levels of green space was associated with improvements in well-being indicators similar to approximately a  third of that gained from being married, or a tenth as large as being employed vs. unemployed.

The authors describe urbanization as a threat to mental health and well-being. The effects at the individual level are small, but the potential benefits at a population level could be significant based on the results of this research, and should be an important consideration in policies aiming to protect and promote urban green spaces for well-being.

Living in urban areas has been found in numerous studies to be stressful and to negatively impact health. With over half the world’s population now living in urban settings finding ways to improve the livability of urban settings should be a high priority. Could increasing the happiness level of residents of an urban area be impacted simply by adding more green space? If people are happier, would they also be more inclined to be more considerate, and less hostile towards others?

Well-being and quality of life are important measures of the livability of a region. Urban planning should include ample green space to provide for the mental health and well-being of its current and future population. Failing to do so could have a negative impact on continued growth of a region (people do not want to live where the quality of life is low), as well as on public health.

So, yes, be happy. It just may be easier to be that way if you are in nature.

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