Written by : Paula Felps

Putting the Om in Home

How rethinking your home design can make you happier.

Rebecca West knew that if she was going to move forward with her life, she had to stop looking at her past.“I had gone through a divorce and I was going on with my life, but every day I was waking up in the house I shared with my husband,” says Rebecca, who lives in Seattle. “Every day, I was waking up and looking at my history. I realized that I couldn’t keep doing that.”So Rebecca began her journey of turning what had been “their” dream home into a launching pad for her newly solo dreams.“I painted a lot of things pink and bought a twin bed,” she recalls with a laugh. “I made a lot of horrible design choices, but at least I was looking at my future instead of my past.”

Rebecca focused on making her home completely reflective of her hopes, interests and imagination. She created not just a customized nest, but also the perfect place to regain her happiness.

Happy at Home

As Rebecca healed and her space once again became her happy place, she “moved into colors that weren’t so man-repellent,” fell in love again, ditched the twin bed and eventually remarried. She also discovered more than she expected to during her foray into refurnishing; she found a calling to help others transform their homes to create a happier environment.

“I realized that being happy in your space really depends on what you need in life. It changes for each person and it changes throughout our lives. The key is to think about what is happening in your life and what you want for your life,” she explains. “What energy are others [in the family] bringing into the house?”

Today, Rebecca is a certified design psychology coach, interior designer and author of the book Happy Starts at Home: Getting the Life You Want by Changing the Space You’ve Got. Through her company Seriously. Happy. Homes. she takes a unique approach to help clients find happiness in their living spaces, focusing less on trendy design styles and more on each person’s spiritual and emotional path. Her approach begins with a guided meditation to help clients get clear on what they really need from their homes.

“It doesn’t throw out that instant appeal that interior designers are going for, but sometimes it changes the focus,” she says. “Wanting to be proud of your space is good,” but trying to make it look like it fell out of the pages of Architectural Digest may not help your cause.

“The focus should be you,” Rebecca says. “You should be the one who smiles when you come in. Happiness in your home does not require perfection.”

Happier by Design

While interior designers and architects are long-time advocates of how the appearance of a space can influence emotion, psychology and neuroscience are still catching up with the science to explain it. The relatively new field of neuroaesthetics studies how viewing art and colors and design affects our brain activity, while the equally fledgling field of embodied cognition looks at how the environment around us shapes our cognitive capacity.

In other words, we now realize that the space around us has a strong influence on our emotions, but we’re not fully aware of what it all means.

In his 2006 book, The Architecture of Happiness, British philosopher Alain de Botton looked at the way our surroundings—the colors, the chairs, the walls and the way they are arranged around us—can have a profound effect on the way we feel.

“An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one…can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us,” he writes.

The Psychology of Space

Using what we do know about how design affects happiness can help us make our homes more satisfying, Rebecca says. She has seen clients make dramatic personal changes just by altering the space they live in.

“If you love where you live, it makes you feel happy just to come home,” she says. “If you’re frustrated by it, that’s going to increase your anxiety and stress and embarrassment on a daily basis. There are so many things that we don’t have control over; taking control over our homes is something we can do.”

Psychologist Stacy Kaiser says the effects of changing your surroundings can be profound and lasting. Your daily environment may be contributing to your stress in ways you don’t realize, while living in an environment that you find appealing has an ongoing therapeutic effect.

“As human beings, we are emotionally impacted by our surroundings,” she explains. “If they are peaceful and calm, it invites peace within us. If our surroundings are stressful or disorganized, it can create discontent.”

That discontent spills over into your emotional state and can color your view of seemingly unrelated things; it can even begin to affect relationships. So you might be surprised how one small change—such as finally covering up a dent in the wall or freshening up a room with a coat of paint—can have a greater effect on your happiness.

“Our mood will affect our behavior, so do what you can to fill your home with colors and objects that evoke positive moods and feelings,” Stacy recommends.

She suggests creating a wall or space within your home that showcases special moments and joyful memories with items like photos, ticket stubs, trophies and other memorabilia that will give you an instant boost.

“Then, when you need an emotional lift, spend more time in that space.”

Tips for a Happier Home

Rebecca West’s go-to solutions for redesigning your home for happiness:

  • Ditch the design magazines. This isn’t about living up to someone else’s standards; it’s about creating what works for you.
  • Add light. Most rooms benefit from more light, and brighter spaces make you feel happier. If you don’t have enough overhead lights, get a lamp. Or two.
  • Keep what you love. Ditch what you don’t.
  • Do what you can. So you can’t afford new bedroom furniture? Get new sheets. Can’t foot the bill for new living room furniture? Spring for some throw pillows. Small changes can have big payoffs.
  • Embrace the power of paint. Adding a fresh color you love or even just updating with a fresh coat of the same color can reinvigorate the room.
Check out our latest interview with Rebecca West on the LiveHappyNow podcast.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of Live Happy magazine.

 

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