Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Psychological Benefits of Building a Home

The act of shaping our physical environment can profoundly affect mental health.

Key points

  • Shaping one's environment can be an act of self-expression and may have positive effects on psychological health.
  • Building a home may allow people to share who they are, have a sense of control, foster relationships and create a sense of safety.
  • Building a home is a luxury for most, but making one's living space more accommodating in various ways can improve how people feel.

Whether you are thinking about Swedish Kygge and admire the comfort that hand-dipped candles bring to your home, or idealize Indigenous spirituality for its firm foothold in nature, you likely realize that your physical environment shapes your psychological health. Even a small plant on the windowsill of a 30-story condo can have an impact on how we feel, especially if we can get the darn thing to grow.

All of these little experiences, however, pale in comparison to the emotional rush one gets from building a new home. Over the past year, through the topsy-turvy world of pandemic dysfunction, my partner and I designed and built our forever home on a wooded six-acre lot with a small brook running down the middle. The entire experience has had plenty of highs and lows, but it has reminded me over and over again why the physical spaces we live in matter and their potential to profoundly affect our wellbeing. It’s little wonder that HGTV is able to captivate audiences with home renovation shows. We all, it seems, want to experience the magic of a new start where who we are is reflected in the spaces that we occupy.

How Shaping Our Environment Can Improve Wellbeing

Building is the act of self-expression, both mentally and physically. And this self-expression makes us more impervious to stress. Our surroundings calm us. They help us focus. They make work easier and relationships more intimate. Or at least they can when our spaces are tailored to our needs. Building gives one a sense of control, which we seldom achieve elsewhere in our lives. If I want a shelf in the kitchen at exactly the perfect height so I can reach my spice rack, I can build it just so. If I like to play the piano late at night and need sound-proofing, that too is achievable.

All of these decisions improve our resilience. They create opportunities to experience the foundation for wellbeing when stressed. Here is a short list of psychological benefits that I’m discovering while building:

Self-expression and creativity. A new home provides the space to share who we are through the choices we make when decorating. It is a blank canvas on which we can express ourselves and create the identities we want others to know us by.

Sense of control. Every decision we make increases our sense of personal efficacy, and this experience of efficacy is endlessly satisfying. It also gives us a feeling that we have the power to control our lives, something we sorely lack during a pandemic.

Creating relationships. While negotiating every decision, from the style of toilet to the color of siding, might strain relationships now and again, building is about creating spaces that will bring people together. Dining areas, open concept kitchens, and balconies that give us a view of the street all make our homes part of a strategy to connect ourselves with others.

A place for our culture to thrive. Our homes are spaces where we reflect who we are across time. The style of house we choose and its furnishings are often emotional triggers for childhood memories. The activities we plan for the spaces we build are typically expressions of our culture, whether that is a fireplace where we reminisce about our grandparents or the slate we use in the garden walkways that bring a sense of history to our home, homes are spaces where we can share our culture and keep fresh the everyday practices that make us feel like our culture is alive. In my home, that means a kitchen that makes bread-baking easy and a woodshop that my father would have loved when he was alive. These are more than hobbies. These spaces and the activities that take place in them are ways the past lives in the present.

A sense of security. While locks and doors and security systems might create physical safety, a well-insulated home that is situated in a community where people know their neighbors is also important for making us feel safe and cozy. A sense of security results when a building is doing what it is intended to do, and doing it well.

There are likely dozens of other ways a new build improves our mental and physical health, especially when our homes are well-conceived. A colleague, Dr. Terri Peters at Ryerson University in Toronto, talks about "super architecture," buildings that don’t just support wellbeing but actually make us feel better.

While building a home is still a luxury for most, anything that we do to create a more accommodating space to live in is bound to have a positive impact on how we feel. With the surge in people looking for new homes even during the pandemic, it makes good sense to not just look inwards for relief from stress, but also look at one’s surroundings. A nice home can be a great catalyst for sustained feelings of happiness.


Peters, T. (2021). The social contexts of resilient architecture. In M. Ungar (Ed.), Multisystemic resilience: Adaptation and transformation in contexts of change (chapter 32). New York: Oxford University Press. Available open access…

More from Michael Ungar Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today