Visiting a park can make you as happy as Christmas

When you're in a bad mood, take a stroll around a park. The burst of good feelings you'll get are like the rush of happiness that many people experience on Christmas Day.

That's what researchers found after analyzing the Twitter posts of people who visited urban green spaces. The parkgoers used happier words and expressed less negativity online than they did before their visit. Plus, that happy mood lasted "like a glow," for as along as four hours after their park visit.

For the study, a team from the University of Vermont spent three months analyzing hundreds of tweets each day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco.

"We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks," Aaron Schwartz, a graduate student who led the new research, said in a statement. "But the effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation."

People who visited small, neighborhood parks had a small spike in mood and those who stopped by city plazas and squares that were mostly concrete had the least amount of positive mood elevation. So, it's not just getting outside that makes you feel better; it's the benefit of trees and flowers and general green space, the researchers found.

Scoring for 'emotional temperature'

For the study, which was published in the journal People and Nature, researchers relied on a tool called a hedonometer. The online instrument uses a bank of about 10,000 common words that are scored for their "emotional temperature." Sad words are at the bottom of the scale and happy ones at the top. (For example, "happy" ranks 8.30, "flowers" 7.56 and "parks" 7.14.)

Overall, the tweets posted from these urban parks were happier by a significant 0.23 points on the hedonometer scale over the baseline. The scientists concluded, "This increase in sentiment is equivalent to that of Christmas Day for Twitter as a whole in the same year."