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Five to Thrive: Tips for a Happier Home

Easy changes build better habits

Here's an inconvenient fact: in the last 35 years, while American incomes have grown 20 percent and the size of our houses has more than doubled, we haven't gotten any happier as a nation. Bigger houses may even have a negative impact on our relationships. John Stilgoe, a professor of landscape history at Harvard University discussed the Ever-Expanding American Dream House with NPR's Margot Adler:

"The big house represents the atomizing of the American family. Each person not only has his or her own television - each person has his or her own bathroom. Some of these houses are literally designed with three playrooms for two children. This way, the family members rarely have to interact."

Regardless of whether you live in a 7,000 square foot suburban mansion or an efficiency apartment, simple changes in your home can encourage the behaviors that build happiness. These inexpensive adjustments create intimate nurturing spaces, which help to encourage positive habits.

  1. Designate a flow room. Choose one room in the home which will promote what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies as "flow," the state of engagement in which you're using your talents, optimally challenged, consummately interested and able to let time melt away. Set up the room so it's easy to play an instrument, read a book or to play a game with family. Lose the clock, the TV, the computer or any other gadget that takes your mind off engaging activities. Make it the most aesthetically appealing room in the house, with the best light and nicest furniture so you'll naturally be drawn to spend time in it.
  2. Take advantage of windows. Maximize exposure to sunlight by creating seating areas near south facing windows. Window filtered sunlight hitting the retina helps raise spirits and mitigate against seasonal affective disorder.
  3. Use color to enhance mood. A great deal of research has been done on color and mood. So, in terms of decorating dollars, a fresh coat of paint may provide the best bang for your buck. Find a color that elicits feelings of warmth and relaxation based on your own personal history and personality.
  4. Optimize your bedroom for sleep. Your bedroom should be primarily for sleeping. Free it from TV's, computers, brightly glowing clocks and other distractions. Make sure it can get dark and cool. If reading helps you sleep, keep books and magazines nearby. Also, make sure the light is within arm's reach so that if you begin to nod off, you can switch off the light without getting up and spoiling your slumber.
  5. Create a family shrine. The newest measures of happiness involve how you experience life (as opposed to how you remember it; a flawed accessment since we only remember about 3 percent of our past). Set up one area of your house to routinely remind you of the people, accomplishments, and events of which you are proud. Frame photos, keepsakes and carefully selected mementos. Arrange the items in a place where you will see them often, such as a hall way or near the entrance to your bedroom.

Happiness is not about a silver bullet--it's about silver buckshot. The more we can punctuate our life with things that nudge us into greater well-being, the happier we will be.

Photo source: seier+seier

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