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Happiness highest in states with lots of parks, libraries

New research suggests that Americans who live where more money is spent on these "public goods" are happier than their counterparts in other states.

By HealthDay News
Happiness highest in states with lots of parks, libraries
Research shows that parks, libraries and other recreational public goods increase levels of happiness in states that invest in them. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

The number of parks, libraries and natural resources in the state where you reside might have a great deal to do with how happy you are.

New research suggests that Americans who live where more money is spent on these "public goods" are happier than their counterparts in other states.

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"Public goods are things you can't exclude people from using -- and one person using them doesn't stop another from doing so," explained study author Patrick Flavin. He's an associate professor of political science at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

"They're typically not profitable to produce in the private market, so if the government doesn't provide them, they will either be under-provided or not at all," he added in a university news release.

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Other types of public goods include highways and police protection, the researchers said.

In the study, Flavin and his colleagues analyzed data on more than 26,000 Americans' self-reported levels of happiness collected between 1976 and 2006.

While the study only found an association between happiness and public goods, higher spending on these goods make communities "more livable, with more amenities," Flavin said.

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"If roads are completed and kept up, so that people aren't stuck in traffic, they have more time to do things they enjoy doing. Large parks are social spaces -- and one clear finding of happiness studies is that people who are more socially connected tend to be happier," he noted.

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Public goods also tend to increase home values, and "while higher property taxes generally accompany higher home values, it seems that the good outweighs the unfortunate part about having to pay higher taxes," Flavin added.

Spending on public goods provides benefits across income, education, gender and race/ethnicity lines, and has support across the political spectrum, according to the researchers.

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"Compared to a lot of the other government spending, public goods tend to be less controversial between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, compared to poverty assistance or unemployment benefits, where there is definite disagreement between political parties," Flavin said.

"I think there is less political conflict over public goods spending simply because if the government doesn't provide them, they won't be provided at all," he said.

The study was published recently in the journal Social Science Research.

More information

HelpGuide.org offers happiness tips.

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