By Shelagh Duncan
I know, we tell ourselves “We live in paradise—what’s there not to be happy about? The resulting guilt because we don’t feel happy can just make things worse.
If you believe that our homes are an extension of who we are, we have somewhere to start. But if we are not happy in ourselves, how can we be happy at home? Perhaps we can change this up, and make our home a happier place to be so we, in turn will feel happier. Can this be possible?
What we do within the space we call home—both inside and out—shapes our mood, affects our productivity, and influences our outlook on life. The colours we paint our walls, the textures of the fabric we use and even the artwork on our walls can all influence how we feel. But without redoing our interior design and buying all new furniture what other options are there?
Scientific studies have shown that we can have an impact on our happiness by adjusting the tiny little habits and routines that constitute our daily lives—so we are, in fact, somewhat in control of our outlook on life without having to move or redecorate! It’s amazing how a few tweaks to our daily habits can become a catalyst for meaningful, positive change. Here are a few simple, and cheap, things you can do every day to feel happier at home.
- Make your bed.
“When I was researching my book on happiness, this was the number one most impactful change that people brought up over and over,” says author Gretchen Rubin. Turns out, people are happier when everyday tasks in their lives are completed. So, given that it only takes 30 seconds, it could give you a small sense of accomplishment at the very start of every day.
- Bring every room back to “ready.” This great trick is found in Marilyn Paul’s clever book, It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. It’s a known fact: clutter causes stress—order creates a haven from it. This mood-boosting routine is simple: take about three minutes to bring each room back to “ready” before you leave. (Unless you have a toddler or a partner who likes to simulate a scene from one of the disaster movies, three minutes should be enough.) Make sure your mirrors are clean, and shine too. This small detail can have a remarkably big impact—mirrors reflect the world as you see it.
- Include sentimental items into the decor around your home. One reason that experiences (and memories of those experiences) make us happier than material things is due to the entire cycle of enjoyment that experiences provide: planning the experience, looking forward to it, enjoying it, and then remembering it. Making your home a gallery of sentimental items may be a bit too much—but have at least one in each room. When friends here have sold up and moved on I usually try to buy or beg one small memento, so when I see that item I can remember them and our good times together.
- Start a one-line-a-day gratitude journal. Before bed, simply jot down one happy memory from that day. It can as simple as no power cuts today(!), or a beautiful bird or butterfly visiting your garden. (If you have kids, you can ask them, “What was the best part of today?”) Reflection is an important part of happiness, and pausing to reflect on a positive event from each day cultivates gratitude. (An added bonus: Later, when your memory is defunct, you will already have all of your meaningful events recorded!) If you have trouble getting started with journaling, consider getting a book to guide you. Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, is a great one. Find joy in the small things—start slow, but start. It does get easier.
- Relax in comfort. If you cannot enjoy relaxing in your house because your chair, sofa or mattress is uncomfortable then it is your body—not your mind—telling you it is unhappy. Treat yourself to a comfy chair at least, especially if you like to read or watch TV. As we spend about a third of our lives in bed, the mattress rates pretty high too. Keep an eye out for sales or promotions and grab the opportunity to upgrade to a good night’s sleep. Your back will thank you!
- Try moving your furniture around. Even for a day. You might not be able to redecorate but you may have always wanted to know what it would feel like to put the couch or bed on the other wall, or a certain painting somewhere else. Indulge yourself in a temporary re-arrange. It might feel right—or not—but it does give you a fresh perspective. If it’s not working, just move it back to where it was. There is no harm in trying. In fact, if the new arrangement is not working you might just gain a greater appreciation for your present layout! Look at some Feng Shui tips too. They suggest that some furniture placements are more ‘auspicious’ than others – try them out and you may be pleasantly surprised!
- Do small favors for your family members or neighbours, expecting nothing in return (not even a thank you!). Mow the lawn for your husband, but don’t expect him to pat you on the back. Make the bed for your wife, but don’t try to get bonus points for it. Give someone walking down your road a ride into town (or to the highway) if you are going that way, or ask a neighbour or friend if they need anything when you are there – just because. The ability to cultivate strong, healthy relationships is one of the biggest contributors to health and happiness, but when you start to keep score, the benefit is lost. It’s a well-known fact: When you do good, you feel good.
- Smell your way to a better mood. Our sense of smell is always on duty. Each breath floods our smell receptors with information about the environment we live in. Smells of pleasure, awareness, danger, sexual attraction. We are capable of recognizing approximately 10,000 different odours, with each one having the power to influence our mood and behavior. Think about it—how does the aroma of fresh coffee or baked bread make you feel? Yeah, me too! Use this important sense as therapy. Burn incense or scented candles in your home to add another layer of well-being. The smells of vanilla and lavender have been directly linked with the production of endorphins in our brain, as has chocolate. Change up the aromas—try two or three of your favourites and each day you can enjoy selecting which one to use.
- Spend your money on things that enrich or cultivate experiences at home. Look out for promotions for a new BBQ grill if you love cookouts with friends, or that new comfy chair or sofa for ‘Movie Nights’—anything that will encourage you to have people over and entertain. Plan a pot-luck or pizza night, invite your closest friends, then kick back and relax. Don’t forget to print out the pictures to remember the good times. The brain will respond favourably to the memory, just as it did to the original experience. Finding a new throw pillow or picture that’s fun and quirky, or that goes perfectly with your living room will give you instant pleasure. It will continue to do so each time you see it or receive a complement on it. Keep an eye open for opportunities to give your home—and you—a little boost.
- Spend a few minutes each day connecting with something greater than yourself. Whatever your spiritual beliefs—or non-beliefs—may be, studies show that connecting to a high power is correlated with happiness. Just stepping back to realize that we are part of an enormous universe can put some perspective on your annoyance with the ever-barking dogs next door, or the painfully slow (or non-existent!) internet connection. Before bed, spend just a few minutes contemplating something larger than yourself. Take a walk outside to gaze up at the stars and take a few deep breaths—feel the stillness and wonder at the enormity of what you see. If spirituality is really not your thing, create a home spa: light some candles, soak in a hot bath, delve into a good book… are you feeling better yet?
There are no magic potions for happiness. We have to take some responsibly for taking care of that ourselves , and I hope these simple ideas will help.