Pursuing Happiness through Parks

By LaPage, Will | Parks & Recreation, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Pursuing Happiness through Parks


LaPage, Will, Parks & Recreation


The obesity argument for continued investment in public parks.

The father of lateral thinking, Edward De Bono, wrote an article about the case of the fat Duchess of Devonshire who, after repeated and fruitless consultations with physicians, finally got her obesity under control by eating more-not less. De Hono's theory rests in the fact that the duchess not only kept her hunger under control by reducing the urge to binge through frequent snacking, lier new philosophy on life made it possible to substitute other activities for meal time. The reason it worked is that the duchess, like most obesity sufferers, wanted to change. As America increasingly wants to change its national obesity trend, it could similarly benefit from some lateral thinking.

Depending on your source, as much as one-third of the American public may be suffering from obesity. Because the obese image is not one that we aspire to, given the emphasis on slimness, fitness and health in American marketing and television programming, we can assume that obesity correlates with unhappiness. Using De Rono's approach, the cure for obesity is not a diet, I)Ut rather happiness.

A few people will always be willing to settle for whatever limited happiness can come from continued food addiction. Hut, what of the others? What about the social costs of treating obesity? What has happened to a country with a (bunding ethic of the pursuit of happiness? Could obesity be an indicator of deeper national malaise?

I am willing to wager that parks can demonstrate many alternatives to food as an antidote to unhappiness. And, because obesity sufferers desire happiness and probably have tried numerous diets in search of it, they may be open to creative ways of breaking the cycle of seeking happiness through food. Of all the public agencies of government, only one is totally dedicated to opening the door to the pursuit ot happiness-parks and recreation.

Of course there s the obvious connection: parks + recreation = exercise. And, no doubt, along with diets, the majority of obese Americans have probably tried exercise as a way to lose pounds. But, why not instead convince people to perceive parks, recreation and exercise as roads to happiness, self-discovery and a healthy lifestyle? For the moment, let's ]ust consider parks as providers of happiness.

It has been said that there is a thin person inside every obese person struggling to get out. One of the things that parks do, and do very well, is prompt us to discover ourselves. Discovery, particularly of the self, can be a life-long source of happiness. Parks challenge us to find ourselves within the spider web of life. They can oil us with music, awe us with majesty, humble us with history, free us with spaciousness and inspire us with hopes and dreams.

Every public park is the love child of someone's emotional connection to the land. Kvery public park was set aside to share that emotional connection. Most public parks have a wide array of programs designed to make everyone a part of their reason for existence. Like the duchess, it might require having to try more than one type before finding the park that opens eyes to the wonder of discovery, to the magic of natural beauty, and to the fulfillment of being involved in something that never was considered possible. America's public parks can endlessly feed all who hunger for happiness.

Recreation, of any kind, as a diversion is well understood by all of us, right? Wrong. Take a good look at the word: it's re-creation, not amusement. Isn't renewal, revitalization, recovery and rebirth what the duchess was looking for; what we all expect in some measure from our recreational activities? Take any recreation to the outdoors and you have instantly added value to it. …

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