What could make you happier than winning £500,000 in the lottery? Living near a park, it turns out.
Spring is here and for those of us without pollen allergies the air is filled with fresh smells and our eyes are enchanted by the beautiful flowers and plants growing all around us. Living in London, a city with more air pollution than I am used to, this is literally a breath of fresh air. It's amazing what taking a walk through a garden or park, instead of down a busy street can do for my mood and feelings of well being.
There is a growing body of research showing that it's not just yoga loving nature enthusiasts who get a boost from green space. Living near a nice park or nature reserve has a more lasting effect on your health and happiness than winning the lottery, getting a job promotion, or even getting married. Those things all give rise to temporary happiness or excitement, but within a year levels of well-being are back to normal. But people who have regular access to green space consistently score higher on the well-being rankings. The NHS could save 2.1 billion pounds per year simply by giving everyone access to green spaces (easier said than done in a big city).
Studies are still unclear on exactly what it is about green spaces that has such a drastic improvement on health, but it seems to me using green spaces as a medicine is a lost art. It wasn't so long ago that people suffering from mental illness were told to "move to the country". While suggestions like this can certainly be problematic (what about ongoing treatment, monitoring, and care once they get there?) it shows that we've sort of always known that being in nature can have a positive impact on our health. But in the wake of having medication to solve even simple health complaints, it is easy to forget about going for a walk in a park, or planting some flowers in your backyard.
If you are living with chronic illness, you may live near a green space, but find it too difficult to spend much time in or get to very often. Try meditating outside or planting an herb in your garden or balcony. Even just getting 15 minutes a day outside near some trees or plants can help!
Does your city have a lot of green spaces? How much time do you spend in them every week? Should we do more yoga in the park!?