Healthy Parks, Happy People: An Exploratory Study of a County Park System
Keywords:leisure activities, subjective well-being, happiness, positive affect, park activities, park satisfaction
AbstractExecutive Summary: Happiness is a quality that nearly all people naturally desire. Happiness has been shown to have a host of positive features, including enhanced mental and physical health, more satisfactory relationships, increased earning potential, and even longer life. Park and recreation facilities have been normatively associated with happiness for over a century, yet research on the relationship of parks with happiness is scant—particularly from a social-psychological perspective. The literature has primarily dealt with the topic tangentially through investigations of leisure and subjective well-being. Given that park activities and happiness are aspects of leisure and subjective well-being, respectively, this study explored whether applicable relationships were also true for parks and happiness. Four hypotheses were investigated: a) park visitation will stimulate happiness; b) across park activity types, fitness activities will have the greatest impact on happiness; c) the diversity of park activities will be more positively associated with patron happiness than the quantity of time spent; and d) there will be a positive relationship between park satisfaction and happiness. Field research was conducted with the cooperation of a county park system. Park patrons in three demographically diverse municipalities in a southeast U.S. coastal region were sampled over a seven-month period. Three out of the four hypotheses were supported by the findings, which suggested that leisure’s relationship with subjective well-being largely holds for parks and happiness. This study’s findings indicate that humans’ innate desire for happiness may be fulfilled when visiting a park. Patrons indicated that they were happy during their park visit and even happier at the end of it. No particular park activity promoted more happiness than another. Study results propose that happiness is not necessarily augmented as much through additional time spent but, instead, by engaging in a greater diversity of park activities during a visit. Patrons generally reported being satisfied with the county parks. Also, patrons left the park happier when they were more pleased with its operation. This has positive implications for park management because happiness is a key component of quality of life, the improvement of which is central to the mission of many urban parks. Park management can leverage this mission success to cultivate greater public trust and support, which is instrumental to securing funding—a critical issue for park and recreation departments across the nation.
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