One of the spaces that makes me feel most at home in my community in D.C. is my local library. Not only does it satisfy all of my voracious reading needs, it also represents a space where everyone can enter safely. Anyone who lives nearby and has a library card can use the computers, attend free movie nights and yoga sessions, and even visit free resume workshops. Someone who has no warm place to go can even step inside to simply escape the cold for the day. In addition to these perks, where you live can affect your health by boosting your overall happiness, according to new research.
The new study, published in the academic journal Social Science Research, looked at the relationship between self-reported levels of happiness, and money spent to fund public goods over a 30-year period. After controlling for factors like income, gender, and race, the researchers found that people are generally happier in states where the government puts money into public goods like parks, highways, and libraries.
Now that many government services deemed "non-essential," such as museums, have been closed due to the government shutdown, I'm already feeling how not being able to access free art and science can take a toll on my own happiness. Of course, there are far worse struggles that people are enduring at the moment because of the government shutdown, but still, I can't deny how disappointed I was last weekend when I was halfway to the Smithsonian Natural History museum to lose myself in the marine life exhibit, before I remembered that the doors were no longer open.
But at its most basic, your neighborhood's public spaces can have a deep impact on not only your access to things like art, but even how anxious you feel on a regular basis. "Safety is a big part of our essential needs right below food and water. You want to feel safe in your home and the neighborhood you live in," explains Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, New Jersey. That's why having safe and accessible public places to relax near your home, she tells Elite Daily, can have such a major impact on your well-being.
For example, "most people who enjoy going to museums will feel a lift in their mood and feel at peace when they visit a museum," Glashow explains. "Someone may also feel safe, content, and productive when going to their neighborhood's library."
Speaking of libraries, they're not just places where you can check out almost any book you could imagine. A library can also be a great place to start if you're looking to use public spaces to improve your mental health. "Libraries usually provide free talks where specialists in the area will come in and talk about different issues," says Glashow. "Sometimes they will have a psychotherapist come in. By attending this free event, you can learn to feel less anxious, less depressed, etc."
Using public spaces can also help to keep you from feeling lonely, which can in turn help you become happier. "Green spaces or cultural institutions offer places where people can socialize and engage in activities related to their interests," Anna Poss, a therapist and the owner of Anna Poss Counseling & Psychotherapy in Chicago, tells Elite Daily. "This can reduce the likelihood a person will isolate."
If you live in a major city, then you probably already know how difficult it can be to coordinate schedules with your friends, not to mention navigate public transit during rush hour to meet up. But taking a free yoga class at a nearby public park, for example, could not only connect you with people who live close to you, but can also introduce you to people whose lives and experiences look very different from your own.
Bottom line: If you haven't taken the time to explore what your neighborhood has to offer, give yourself a day, or even just an afternoon, to do so. You never know what hidden treasures you might discover.