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The Scientific Secrets of What Makes a Happy Home

The Scientific Secrets of What Makes a Happy Home


Barrett & MacKay/Getty Images

Home. The very word conjures up all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings. But you’ve surely noticed that some people’s houses feel more homey than others. They say you can’t put happiness in a bottle—and yet recent research reveals plenty of ways to boost joy based on where you buy, how you renovate, and a bunch of other factors you may never have considered. Get clued in to these secrets of home happiness. You might just be rewarded with a significantly sunnier outlook.

Secret No. 1: It doesn’t matter if you buy or rent

If you’re under the impression that homeowners are happier than renters, here’s a reality check: A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that both groups have about equal levels of emotional well-being. Researchers theorize it’s because whatever joy homeownership brings is canceled out by the extra time homeowners have to spend on maintenance, from fixing leaky faucets to cleaning gutters. Happy-go-lucky renters, on the other hand, get to spend more time on leisure activities.

So all in all, it’s a wash—which means renters should stop feeling sorry for themselves, whereas homeowners should take care to not fall into the trap of feeling so smug (or for that matter, stressed by their long-term commitments).

Secret No. 2: Long commutes are a mood killer

According to recent data from the Office for National Statistics, long commutes can chip away at our contentment levels. So how long is too long? If it’s under 15 minutes you’re golden, but over 15, commuters get anxious. Over an hour, and you are seriously depressed. So try your best to stay under the hour mark to avoid serious siphoning of your morale.

Secret No. 3: Paint your walls green or yellow

A study from Vrije University in Amsterdam found that yellow and green evoked the most feelings of happiness.

“Green gives a feeling of comfort and serenity, so it’s an ideal choice for a bedroom, while yellow brings out creativity and playfulness, so you might consider that tone for a playroom,” says Victoria Shtainer, a real estate broker for Compass.

Secret No. 4: Understand the true cost of clutter

Mess = stress. According to the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives and Families, a “higher density” of objects in the home raised female subjects’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Men, interestingly, didn’t show this physical reaction, but we’d wager some must get irked when the coffee table is too crowded with things to find the TV remote.

“Clutter definitely costs you both emotionally and financially,” says Dana Korey, a professional organizer. “If your rent is $ 2,000 a month and half of your home is filled with nonusable space, then it is effectively costing you $ 1,000 a month. One short-term solution is to pack this stuff into boxes and pay to have them put into storage. That way when you see the actual dollar amount every month that the clutter is costing you, you are likely to take action and unload.”

Secret No. 5: Stop putting off renovations already

Have you been longing to redo your kitchen or overhaul your bathroom? Well, the longer you wait, the more it can mess with your peace of mind. To find this out, researchers at UCLA asked 60 couples to describe their homes, then calculated the frequency of words indicating their abode was “unfinished” (e.g., “we’ve been meaning to retile that backsplash forever”).

The more “undone” the home was perceived to be, the less happy its owners were—not only with themselves, but also with their spouse. So don’t just keep telling yourself that you’ll get to those home improvement projects “someday.” Hop on it! You’ll get not just a new bathtub, but also a happier relationship to boot.

Secret No. 6:  Pay off as much as you can

It can take years to pay off a home, but those who do will be richly rewarded. According to the Halifax Happiest Home Report, people without mortgages have the happiest homes. Of course, living mortgage-free is easier said than done. Luckily, paying down a home loan is the next best thing, so don’t be surprised if your mood rises as your debt dwindles.

Secret No. 7: Know your neighbors

Part of a happy home life extends to what’s going on beyond your walls. The Halifax Happiest Home Report found that “relationships with neighbors” was crucial to a sense of well-being. What’s more, a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when strangers in close proximity were forced to converse, they ended up happier, too.

“I’d recommend that people make it part of their routine to cultivate a sense of neighborhood. This is missing nowadays, especially in large urban centers where people tend to isolate from one another,” says Grant Brenner, co-author of “Irrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships to Hide From Intimacy.”

So go ahead and strike up conversations with locals you encounter rather than just smile, nod, and move on; or consider organizing block parties or potlucks to create a sense of community. Because when it comes to happiness at home, it just might take a village.

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