March 6, 2014
By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert
Granite countertops, a stereo in your shower, a bigger house, a bigger TV, more closets . . . more, more, bigger, bigger. And when you have it all . . . you miss having more. That was the makeover mantra of the era of excess and housing bubbles.
There's a poignant quote that is wrongfully attributed to George Carlin (he never said it, but I love it anyway): "Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body."
When it comes to renovations this sentiment begs the question "does remodeling our home make us happier?" There is quite a bit of peer-reviewed research that indicates that we do indeed get a drug-like rush from rearranging the furniture, repainting walls or remodeling the entire house. However, that rush is very short lived. When the excitement fades, we need another fix. We become home makeover junkies, but we aren't happier.
The Happiness Initiative (check out their website http://www.happycounts.org/ ) has a new handbook with simple things you can do to increase your happiness and the happiness of others. The handbook is modeled on the Gross National Happiness Index and covers the 10 areas that research shows actually make us happy.
Home is a great place to start working on your happiness. Here's a few things you can do to help create an environment at home that promotes happiness for you, your family, and your neighbors.
- Sleep: Pick colors for your bedroom that are conducive to sleep. In one study, people who slept in rooms colored blue slept longer. Get rid of televisions in all bedrooms. Put flowers on your nightstand rather than your phone. Do not bring computers, tablets, or phones in bed! The glow (high color temperature) from the screens can inhibit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and keep you awake.
- Meditate and get creative: Create a quiet space in your house to reflect, paint, write, or listen to music. It's important that we take breaks and restore our minds and bodies. The breaks can be brief. Take at least one day off from all work and house chores. All religions and cultures have taken a sabbath day throughout human history. We've lost that in the smart-phone age. It's important to occasionally sit and do nothing.
- Give: Giving to others makes us happy. Create a Little Free Library: http://littlefreelibrary.org/ on your lawn. "In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share." Create a tool-share program with neighbors. http://sharestarter.org/tools/
- De-clutter - practice altruism: Organize your closets and assess what stuff you really need. Give away the things you think would be more helpful to others. Then, pick one of your favorite things in your home and give it away, no matter how valuable to you. You'll be surprised how good it will make you feel.
- Work less: We work more and take less vacation than any culture in the history of civilization. If you have a home office, separate it from your other living space. Set strict hours and do not mix it with your home life. If you don't have an extra room, use a corner separated with a curtain. Some resourceful home-workers have turned camper-trailers into backyard home offices. Check out this one in Oregon.
- Make new friends: Create a sitting space in front yard where you can see, meet, and spend time with neighbors. Build a front porch or patio if possible. Social isolation feeds into our fear of strangers and is a leading indicator of sadness.
- Say no to multi-tasking: Multi-tasking actually makes us less productive, not more. Remember, the ultimate goal here is sustained happiness. It was easier when we left the phone and the file cabinet at the office. Electronics make it harder for us to disconnect from our lives away from home and deeply connect with our lives with our family and friends. Create a space inside a cabinet or closet to store your cell phone and computer while charging. Doing so will reduce clutter and reduce temptation for multi-tasking.
- Grow food in your garden: This is a no-brainer. For centuries gardens have been known to be a place of cognitive restoration and relaxation. As a bonus, it will help you make more friends, work less, and practice altruism when you share your harvest and cook a delicious meal to bring to neighbors.
- Take a TV fast: You'll be amazed at what fun things you can accomplish when you have hours upon hours of free time when you take a break from TV. Hide your television. Build a TV cabinet. Don't make the TV the center of your living space. It's ugly and promotes isolation. Chairs should not be turned toward the TV like a bunch of seagulls facing the wind on the beach.
- Plant a rain garden: Like food gardens, rain gardens restore both your soul and the land around you. Rain gardens help reduce rainfall that ends up in storm water drains. Deep roots of native rain garden plants help reduce or eliminate the need for watering and help loosen the soil to aid water flow back into the ground. Don't use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Check out http://creatingsustainablelandscapes.com/
To learn more about your own happiness - Take the Happiness Survey.