Rapid urbanization promotes the expansion of urban tourism and recreation functions, but it also brings many problems, which affect residents’ happiness. Previous studies have emphasized the direct impact of urban recreation environment on happiness, and few have explored the indirect impact of urban recreation environment on happiness through subjective evaluation. Based on the survey data of nearly 10,000 permanent residents in 40 key tourism cities in China, this paper establishes a theoretical framework of the direct and indirect impact of urban recreation environment on happiness. The objective evaluation of natural recreation environment and sociocultural recreation environment has an important influence on happiness, but the influence of natural recreation environment is greater than that of sociocultural recreation environment. Individual subjective satisfaction with urban recreation environment mediates the relationship between urban objective environment and happiness. Urban parks have a positive effect on happiness, while tourist attractions have a negative effect. The influence of urban location on happiness is nonlinear. The high-income group is more sensitive to the recreation environment, while the low-income group is less sensitive to the recreation environment. These findings provide insights for further improving citizens’ quality of life and designing urban construction in developing countries under the conditions of rapid urbanization.
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