Source: A Parkdale Front Yard/Kaz Andrew/CC BY SA 2.0

When you think about it, front lawns are weird. We mow them, fertilize them, rake them...and then never use them. The American front yard has become all work and no joy.

But, it turns out that the way you use your front yard (or the landing to your condo, the stairs leading to your apartment, etc.) can change the way you feel about your community, your neighbors, and yourself.

Here are 4 ways to design a front yard that brings happiness:

1. Share Something. Studies show that people who give to others experience a greater sense of well-being. Why not turn your front yard into a place where you can share something you love? Thousands of people have put Little Free Libraries in their front yards. These wooden boxes are stocked with books to share with neighbors and people passing by. Many Little Free Libraries have log books where patrons can jot a personalized note to let you know what they’re reading or have donated to the cause.

Not enchanted with the idea of curating a little library? Consider what else might make bring you joy to give. Perhaps you’d like to put up an outdoor shelf offering free flowers from your garden, a pot of growing basil with a note inviting people to partake, or even a water bowl for thirsty puppies who pass your place on walks.

2. Eat Outside. Researchers say we’re facing an “epidemic of loneliness,” significantly impairing our physical and mental health. But, something as simple as a communal meal can make your front yard a space for connection rather than solitude.

Kristin Schell made connection a priority by putting a brightly painted turquoise picnic table in the middle of her front yard. She sits at the table and says hello to neighbors passing by, invites people to join her for a cup of coffee, and hosts community dinners. By putting up a front yard table, you can connect with neighbors and turn strangers into friends. Even when your house is too messy or it would feel weird inviting someone in. So, hit up Home Depot for a wooden table and a can of turquoise paint. Hello, happy.

3. Embrace Play. One of the best ways to get your family off the couch is by designing a front-yard that invites playfulness. Suburban dad Mike Lanza was worried about a lack of unstructured play and opportunities for friendships to form naturally between his sons and other kids in their neighborhood. He replaced a traditional yard with painted roads for matchbox cars, a kid-sized bubbling fountain, and lots of storage for toys. Now, their family is known for having the best front yard in the city. Or at least the most delightful.

No kids? No problem. Play is a serious way to relieve stress and increase well-being for adults too. Perhaps you’ll make your front yard more playful with a spray painted hopscotch you can jump through on your way to the car, a colorful swinging hammock, or even a grown-up treehouse you can use for a short escape.

4. Create. If your front yard looks like all the others on your block, you have the perfect canvas to get creative. Creating something can give you a sense of purpose, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Plus, it’s just fun.

Consider Adam Tenenbaum’s Chandelier Tree. Over the years, Adam has wired 30 vintage chandeliers to hang from a towering tree on his property. His creative project has become a source of pride for the neighborhood, garnering its own Yelp page while attracting visitors and marriage proposals.

If that’s a bit much for you, think about how you could create something that’s more your style. Make a mosaic stepping stone, get experimental with your holiday decorations, or put up a mysterious gnome-sized door on a front-yard tree.

If your home is your sanctuary, your front yards is your point of first connection - to the outdoors, to your neighbors, and to the world at large.

Taking on a unique front yard project might feel outside of your comfort zone. But, if it makes your days a bit happier, it’s almost always worth the effort.

About the Author

Jamie Littlefield

Jamie Littlefield is a journalist and an advocate for human-centered design.