Dutch people more happy in the dunes, on the coast and in heathlands than in parks or agricultural areas

Published on
November 23, 2020

In green areas people feel happier than in built-up areas. Research in other countries showed this before. A recently published article, based on large-scale citizen's experience sampling, shows that this is also the case in the Netherlands. The study, by Wageningen Environmental Research, demonstrates that the various types of green space induce significant differences: Dutch people are happier in the dunes, on the beach and in heathlands than in parks and agricultural areas. Even indoors this effect shows. It does make a difference, in which type of environment a house or work space is situated.

Wageningen Environmental Research carried out this large-scale citizen's study upon request of the PBL, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. It centred around the issue of which type of environment is most conducive to happiness. Participants in the study answered, via the app HappyHier, on average 25 times the question of how happy they were feeling at that moment. They responded when they were outdoors as well as when they were indoors at home or at work. The app registered at the same time the type of environment the participants were in. This has made it possible to confirm also for the Netherlands that people feel happier in green areas than they do in built-up environments. The research also clarified that the feeling of happiness may vary among the different green area types. Dutch people feel happier on the coast and in areas with low-lying natural vegetation, like heathlands: happier there than in parks and in agricultural areas. This implies that the promotion of visiting the more natural areas iss a way of enhancing the mental well-being of the population.

Making parks more peaceful and fascinating contributes to happiness

However, also city parks are important for the mental wellbeing. Other research has already indicated that it also matters how frequent the visits to a green area are undertaken: the more frequent, the more lasting effect the greenery has on a citizens’ wellbeing. Since it is a city park that is closest to where the large part of the population in the Netherlands lives, it is of course the most frequently visited type of green space. Therefore, the lasting effect of parks is large. More research can substantiate which factor exerts more influence in the long run: the effect per visit or the frequency of visiting.

The current study also indicates that the impact urban parks have on the well-being of urban dwellers could even be greater. The participants also registered how beautiful, peaceful and fascinating to them the place was where they were. The results gave way to the conclusion that they felt especially happy, whenever they experienced an area that was peaceful or fascinating. Remarkably, the beauty the participants experienced as such in a certain area appeared less relevant to them. Then the recommendation can follow that it is best to ensure parks to be peaceful and interesting.

Large-scale study with smartphones

Wageningen Environmental Research carried out this study with the specially developed app ‘HappyHier’. Participants could download this app for free in the app stores, both for iOS- as for Android-platforms. A couple of times a day, the app would ask to complete a short questionnaire. The requests were programmed in such a way that questions on assessment were comparatively more asked in the green areas that were usually less frequently visited. To determine the type of area where the participant was at the time of the reply, also location data were collected by means of GPS in the smart phone. HappyHier was launched by a media campaign that started on 1 May 2016. The following months more than 4000 people participated, who all together filled in the questionnaire more than 100,000 times The researchers made corrections based on statistical analyses before drawing conclusions. Factors that can also influence the feeling of happiness were given a weight, like being indoors or outdoors, the activity one engaged in, any company the participant had and the weather conditions.