Urban Parks Make Twitter a Happier Place

Reference: Schwartz, A.J., P.S. Dodds, J.P.M. O’Neil-Dunne, C.M. Danforth and T.H. Ricketts. 2019. Visitors to urban greenspace have higher sentiment and lower negativity on Twitter. People and Nature 1:476-485. DOI 10.1002/pan3.10045 // Feature Image by egorshitikov via Pixabay


Imagine you’re strolling through a city park. A patch of green in the concrete jungle. The din of street sounds fades away. Instead you hear the rustle of leaves, perhaps the burble of water and – wait, what’s that? A rare creature indeed – it’s a human tweeting for joy.

Greenspace in the Twitterverse

You heard that right. Scientists have found that people who visit an urban greenspace exhibit more positivity on Twitter. Scientific discoveries sometimes demand acts of fortitude and bravery. I’d say bushwhaking through the undergrowth of the Twitterverse searching for, of all unlikely things, happiness, is a truly gutsy endeavor.

What did it take for scientists to discover the link between urban greenspace and happy tweets? First, a team of researchers from the University of Vermont homed in on Twitter users who maintained public, location-enabled feeds and who had tweeted from within a San Francisco park during the summer of 2016. The sheer number and diversity of urban parks in San Francisco made it a top choice for this project, because it promised abundant visitors producing a big data set of public tweets.

Tweets made during and shortly after urban park visits have higher happiness scores than tweets made before visiting the park. Image via pxfuel

After finding tweets made within the parks, the researchers clipped a portion of each user’s timeline starting back in time before the park visit and extending forward into the “post-park” period. The pre-park tweets were used to establish a baseline level of tweet happiness before visiting parks. Then the happiness of tweets made within parks was compared to the baseline, and also compared to post-park tweets, so that researchers could estimate the duration of a happiness hangover after visitors exit the park.

How to Measure Happiness

But how is a variable like happiness-of-tweets actually measured? It’s a matter of finding the right yard stick. Researchers evaluated tweets with a digital tool called the “Hedonometer” that assigns a happiness value to commonly used words. Using this measuring tool, they discovered that words sitting higher on the happiness scale (such as: “beautiful,” “fun,” “love,” and of course, “happy”) increased while people were tweeting from the park and remained higher during a 1-4 hour window following their park visit. During the same time period, the use of negative words (such as “no,” “don’t,” or “wait”) decreased. And the use of a word that is ranked as happiness-neutral, although it is probably one of the more tiresome terms on social media, also decreased: the word “me.”

All in all the happiness calculated from tweets in urban greenspaces was higher than Twitter’s average happiness on the happiest day of the year which, at least in 2016, was December 25, according to Hedonometer.org. In other (unscientific) words, a visit to the park is better than Christmas. And it’s available every day of the year.

Enjoying a little big of green in the city can improve mental health and prompt park visitors to tweet with joy. Image by Joe Parks via Flickr
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Kara Cromwell

I recently finished my PhD in Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focused on environmental drivers of disease in high-altitude streams. Beyond the science of parasites, I am interested in how people perceive the creepy, crawly and less charismatic elements of biodiversity, and I try to find creative ways to communicate about nature's unseemly side. I now live in Missoula, MT where I act as a consultant and communicator focused on making ecology research accessible and meaningful to community stakeholders.

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