Visiting parks is often seen as a recreational activity, and while it can be incredibly enjoyable, it turns out that there is evidence suggesting that it might have more benefits than originally thought. Recent research indicates that frequency of visiting parks is related to better mental health and a stronger connection with nature. Why then, do we not seem to be taking full advantage of all the potential these benefits offer?
Before addressing the epistemological question that frames the title's inquiry – why do we not visit parks more despite knowing it makes us happier – it is important to understand what exactly the literature is saying about how and why visiting parks can lead to improved mental health and well-being. Studies have been done that demonstrate a clear correlation between park attendance and general well-being.
One particular study noted that, among aging adults in Taiwan, those who visited natural parks regularly reported higher levels of psychological well-being, a stronger sense of connectedness to nature, and a greater ability to enjoy life. Across multiple studies, researchers have acknowledged that frequent visits to parks lead to people feeling more content, relaxed and happy.
What's particularly interesting is that the correlation between park attendance and well-being was not attributed to having more parks available nearby. Instead, the perceived accessibility of parks was found to be the biggest factor related to increased attendance. This suggests that besides just having more parks or ensuring they are kept in good condition, having clear communication or solid understanding of existing parks can play a role in encouraging people to make use of them.
So if this research is accurate, we should all be standing amidst the trees and saplings quite frequently to ensure our mental health and well-being remain in top shape, because after all, we know it will make us happier. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case.
The most likely explanation for this disconnect is that the demands of daily life can make it difficult for many to prioritise park visits as it can often feel like we simply do not have the time to go. Especially for those already in a lower socioeconomic position, the obligation to spend time on more ‘productive' activities such as working or taking care of others prevents us from making hikes in nature part of our routines. safety concerns along with physical or mental limitations may also factor into certain individuals not being able to take full advantage of natural spaces.
It goes without saying that if we are able to follow through with regular walks in the park, we should focus our efforts on doing so. For example, grabbing a few friends or family members and simply walking with them by the lake or going bird-watching – these activities can be incredibly rewarding without requiring too much effort. Moreover, realising how precious our surrounding nature is to both ourselves and the environment at large can help prioritize parks visits as something meaningful rather than merely recreational.
On a larger scale, having more support in the form of public transportation providing easy access to parks is one way the community can ensure people's ability to enjoy nature while alleviating any stress that might come with having to factor them into their current lifestyle. Similarly, more policies to protect and preserve ecological havens should deter people from having to worry too much about safety when it comes to getting lost in the wilderness.
While there is a myriad of factors that contribute to our lack of willingness to visit parks, the evidence that people who did made note of better mental health proves that there is a lot to gain from maintaining a relationship with our natural surroundings - more than just for the sake of a picturesque backdrop. As human beings, we tend to need nature to ground us, so ensuring our access to it should be an important cause to fight for. After all, if our mental health dictates how well we deal with life's difficulties, then it is worth exploring how we can make visiting parks a fundamental part of our journey.