How to be Happier at Home Using the Science of Neuro-architecture

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be happier at home

Your home is more than just a place to lay your head at night or to store your stuff while you’re at work.

It’s a place of comfort.

A place to retreat to, to nurture yourself and your family and provide hospitality to your friends. It’s a reflection of your tastes and your personality.

For these reasons, homemaking isn’t just an outdated pass-time of prettying up your house.

What designers and architects have known for years, science is now confirming – a comfortable and ‘homely’ home affects your mood and mental wellbeing.

Neuro-architecture, the hybrid child of neuroscience and architecture, studies the human response to the built environment and its design.

By observing people’s hormone levels and brain chemicals, scientists have found that certain design elements within a building can be either beneficial or detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. The application was originally for places like hospitals and prisons, but it also applies to your home and your family.

Your home can affect your mood. By applying certain design elements, you can improve your mood and increase your happiness.

The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was well aware of architecture’s power on the mind. His use of fireplaces, large windows and open areas was a subtle nod to our ancestors’ dwelling: the cave with a firepit overlooking the plains” [source].

While designing the architecture of your house according to cutting edge neuroscience may be out of reach, there are a few easy and inexpensive things you can do to maximise the good mood you get from our home.

Below are seven frugal ways to improve the feel-good effects of your home.

1. Let there be Light

Large windows that let in lots of light are better for your mood than dark houses with tiny windows.

Science has revealed that light exposure, particularly sunlight (which is full spectrum light), improves mood. So the more light you let in during the day, the better.

But not all houses have large windows to let in the light, so what do you do?

Open curtains as wide as they will go during the day (particularly during winter) and use tie backs to let in the most light from your windows as you can.

Clean windows regularly –  it’s surprising what a difference this can make! Open doors as well for extra light. 

If you can, install skylights in key places like over the kitchen to increase the natural daylight within the house.

And of course, spend time outdoors in the yard to increase your light exposure.

While letting in lots of light can improve your mood, too much light can deflate it again, especially at night and especially with artificial lighting.

Soft light from lamps and candles create a better atmosphere than harsh lights from above. And as well as being romantic, a low-wattage light will use less electricity and save you money.

Artificial ‘blue’ light will also interfere with your natural circadian rhythms, which will affect your sleep patterns and potentially your mood.

You might also like 101 ideas for spending more time in nature.

2. Clear the Clutter…

Clutter is bad for your mood.

I know from personal experience that when I walk into a messy house (which is pretty regularly) my mood takes a nose-dive, and the mental to-do list gets bossy and demanding.

Clutter bombards our senses, making it difficult to relax, it distracts us, it tells us our work is never done; it can make us anxious, guilty, depressed and frustrated [source].

So improve your mood by tidying, putting things away and giving your home a good declutter.

Minimalise your stuff so you’re not in a constant battle to keep it all clean and organised. There’s no point organising clutter before you purge because you’re not getting to the heart of the problem, and you’ll never get on top of your clutter.

Then once you reduce your clutter, put in place simple organisational systems that make tidying up quicker and easier in the future. 

Open baskets and boxes are ideal, especially for kids, because it’s so easy to just throw things in an open box.

The other essential clutter cleaning tool is a good routine. Things get clean and stay clean when it’s an automatic part of your routine and everyone in the household knows what jobs they need to do and when.

3…but Avoid Minimalism

While an uncluttered home is good for the mood, going too far can make it stark and uninviting. It’s the little personal touches that make a house homely.

A little bit of ‘mess’ is healthy – the ideal amount of mess actually depends on your individual personality.

Photos of family and friends give us a sense of belonging, while original art, crafts and a few select favourite nick-knacks emphasise our individuality.

Here are some ideas for taking and displaying family photos and creating your own unique art work:

4. Colour your World

The décor you choose for your home can also affect your mood.

Curved and flowing lines are preferable to sharp corners for instance. Curved lines are easier on the eye and they mimic nature, and nature is important for your happiness.

Colour is also important. Warm tones like red and orange increase energy while cool tones like blue and green are relaxing. Which mood do you want to create in which room? Using colour judiciously can help create that mood.

However, too much colour can be overwhelming – it’s better to use colour in decor items placed against a neutral background. This way you can change the mood of a room by just changing the cushions, which is a lot cheaper than changing the entire decor.

One of the cheapest ways to get a new look is to rearrange your furniture. Rearranging the furniture prevents things from getting stale and a fresh new look can give you a fresh new outlook too without spending any money at all.

5. The Green Green Grass of Home

Despite our increasing disassociation from nature, humans are hard-wired to be in the great outdoors. We are happier and healthier when we spend time in nature.

It isn’t surprising then that our garden is just as important for our happiness (if not more so) as anything we do inside the house. A view of a garden, courtyard, distant greenery or even just the sky so that you can see the weather can improve your mood.

So if your courtyard is a mess of weeds, your lawn is overgrown or your yard needs some love, cleaning it up, doing some planting and potting some flowers will improve your health and mood.

Bringing nature inside is also beneficial. Grow some indoor pot plants and fill your home with natural materials – wooden furniture, wicker baskets, woollen throws.

6. A Room to Gather

Nothing says home like the smells, sounds and bustle of the kitchen. The kitchen is the heart of the home and the perfect place for the family to gather.

Spending time together, especially while doing communal activities together like cooking (and especially when all screens are out of sight and out of mind) is a great way to build and strengthen relationships and therefore increase happiness and wellbeing.

If you can, place a table and or chairs in the kitchen so that it is a communal area as well as a functional one. The best place is one where you can see and talk to people while you share in the preparation, cooking and clean up of the family meals.

Alternatively, island benches on which you have room to prepare food and that face into the living room are also conducive to the communal feel of the kitchen.

Of course, this isn’t always possible, so a frugal alternative is to bring in a chair or a stool so that you can talk with your partner or child while you (or they) cook.

And just like I used to shell peas with my grandmother on the back step, consider bringing the cooking out of the kitchen so you can be with your family while preparing food. We have a tiny kitchen that is not the perfect place to gather, so I often chop the vegetables in the living room at the table while the kids eat afternoon tea and do their homework.

7. A Room of One’s Own

While communal spaces are important, so too are private spaces that each family member can retreat to, be alone and to just be yourself.

Alone time is essential for everyone, but it’s particularly important for introverts, who recharge their batteries by being alone.

Alone time is time to practice mindfulness and ponder life’s great mysteries, which is what makes us human and what we all need to do from time to time. Your home should provide a safe and comfortable place to do this.

A bedroom. A shed. A craft-room, A man-cave. A quiet corner. A special chair. A bathroom with a lock.

Everyone in a household should have a space that they can call their own.

Our home affects our mood so it’s important to make the most of what neuro-architecture has discovered so that our home influences our wellbeing in a positive manner. 

You don’t need an award winning architectural design, however, to get the most of what neuro-architecture has to offer. Some simple, inexpensive changes can make all the difference to the mood in your home.

how to be happier at home

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  1. Eileen Miles says:

    In older houses with small windows a way to get more light in is to extend the curtain rod mounting positions beyond the width of the window – so when the curtain is fully opened it sits beside the window not over it.If situated near a fence or wall and the aspect is correct try mounting a mirror or reflective surface on the fence or wall to redirect natural light into the room.

    When it comes to clutter like the kids toy shelves or a bookcase used for multiple storage purposes a simple pleasant fabric curtain or cover can hid a multitude of sins.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      These are great ideas, thank you. We put white lattice on our fence for just that reason :).