Significant Results

Using research findings to tell a more positive story.

Do you live in a circus tent or a retreat center?

Your house matters to your happiness more than you think!

I recently posted photos of my house on Facebook because, I realized, I love my house so much that I wanted to share it with others, if even in a small way. I don't live in a mansion and there is nothing all that remarkable about my two car garage or wooden deck. My house is not necessarily the cause for any bragging rights. My home does have a unique feature, however; a small river running through the lush, fern filled yard that feeds the massive cedar trees that rise up like towers. The natural setting in which my house is nestled has led-on more than one occasion-to guests comparing it to the quiet and serenity of a retreat center. I have come to understand that the physical environment in which I live-the color of the walls in my home, the furnishings, the lighting, the plants, and other features-play a subtle but powerful role in my well-being.

There are many research studies pointing to the conclusion that having a view of a natural setting can be rejuvenating. Nothing new there. That's exactly why people are willing to pay extra for ocean facing hotel rooms when they go on holiday. What is fresh, however, is a new publication by Richard Florida, an intellectual with an interest in place. Florida argues that where you live matters. Living in areas where schools are good and crime is low obviously leads to a better quality of life. Less obvious is the fact that people living in different areas derive happiness from different sources! Using Gallup survey data Florida and his research team discovered that city folk get a kick out of meeting new people, suburban dwellers emphasize safety and education, and people in the country place importance on tight social relationships. Florida suggests that there are four basic qualities to a person's sense of place: basic needs, community, stimulation and freedom.

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1. Basic Needs
2. Community
3. Stimulation
4. Freedom

Florida is referring to whole areas-cities and societies. I thought it would be interesting to shrink his theory and apply it on a less grand scale: to my own home. It can be useful to think about the very place you live-your house or apartment-in reference to Florida's four place qualities. Ask yourself how well your basic needs are met? For instance, is the home warm or cool enough? Do you complain about the light? Is there typically food on hand? What about your sense of community within your home? How do your friends, family members, neighbors or housemates contribute to or detract from your well-being? What about stimulation? Is your home full of opportunities to engage your mind in ways you value, or do you find yourself ducking out to get your kicks? Finally, how much freedom do you experience? Do you have a room that is a reflection of you and which you are free to decorate? Chances are, intervening in any one of these areas will translate to more satisfaction and happiness for you. I admit, I ran away with Florida's theory and applied in on a micro scale, but I have found it to be an effective way to understand my own home and how it affects me. I suggest you take the time and try it on for yourself.

One way of getting a more objective gauge of how happy a place your home is would be to take stock of the types of compliments you get when visitors arrive. If you take my house as an example, people are quick to point out the beautiful landscape. Calling my home a "retreat center" suggests that it scores high points on the basic needs dimension, but that it might not be the most stimulating place in the world. This is true, in fact. You won't find TVs blaring or music blasting or people playing video games at our residence. You'll find a group of people reading quietly. Which means, where the happiness of the Biswas-Dieners is concerned, it would be important for us to acquire games, puzzles, toys or other tools for boosting the stimulus value of our otherwise calm household. What are people saying about the place you live, and how can this point you to making small improvements in one of these four areas?

 

Robert Biswas-Diener is a happiness researcher and adventurer.

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