A new house with a snazzier kitchen or a big
media room may seem like the ticket to happiness.
But the burgeoning field of evidence-based design
-- backed by science that studies the effect of
built spaces on our brains and bodies -- indicates
that neither tons of space nor high-end
furnishings are key to your home satisfaction.
Much more important are things that may seem minor
but that pack a big emotional wallop.
"Light and color have a definite impact on
people's emotional response," says Alison
Whitelaw, a San Diego architect and vice president
of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, a
group that brings research scientists and
Maximizing full-spectrum light during the
day, matching wall color and ceiling height to a
room's purpose, and placing the main seating in
the "power position" (ideally with a wall at your
back) -- those are just some of the tricks
researchers say are proven to make houses feel
better to their occupants
Now is a great time to take advantage of
these insights. According to a recent poll
commissioned jointly by Money and home-improvement
chain Lowe's, 52% of homeowners say they are
focused on smaller projects that increase their
enjoyment of their homes even if they don't
increase its value.
Problem is, those people are in danger of
wasting money on projects that won't increase
their pleasure after all. That's because our
survey shows that people aren't always right about
what will make them happy in their homes.
For instance, homeowners think that their
outdoor space has a big impact on their happiness,
but it turns out that's not true. Indoor spaces
have much more impact -- particularly the living
room or family room, the kitchen, and bedrooms.
In the next newsletter, there will be
specific suggestions you can use to apply design
research to make key rooms work harder for you.
For example, your bedroom can get better at
lowering anxiety and promoting sleep; your home
office at helping you work more efficiently; and
your living room at increasing family
That last one is especially important, given
that the National Science Foundation's General
Social Survey -- which has polled some 53,000
people since it began in 1972 -- finds that what
makes people happiest isn't their wealth, work, or
health. Rather, it's their family relationships.
Best of all, the suggested fixes don't cost
much. Some are free. And you need not tackle them
all -- completing even two or three can make a
One caveat: We don't all respond to spaces
exactly the same way. What brings you joy is
affected by your personal associations."If your
happiest times were at your grandmother's house,
which had green walls, then green may make you
feel better" than the colors research suggests,
says Dr. Esther Sternberg, chief of neuroendocrine
immunology and behavior at the National Institute
of Mental Health and the author of "Healing
Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being."