what (exactly) makes you happy?

I originally wrote this in my other blog but it is still playing on my mind…

Over at Heart and Design, author Amanda Talbot has an inkling to write another book. This one is about being happy and she wonders, ‘how can the definition be translated into our homes so we can create personal and public environments that can positively shift our moods and wellbeing?’

The story between happiness and our created environment has always been one I’ve loved to explore. Of course, I’m always the first to say that a natural environment like the beach makes me instantly happy. For me it is a failsafe route to tranquility and refreshment, thus happiness. But we don’t always think specifically about creating a physical space for happiness or of how objects can help create an experience that then opens the door to happiness. It’s a fine line because on the one hand, humans often learn the hard way that objects or anything material such as wealth and acquisitions do not equate to happiness. Yet I think there is a place for objects or things to provoke that elusive feeling of joy or contentment. It could be something that delights us when we look at it – human or inanimate! Something that encompasses us with a feeling of warmth or restfulness. Something we like to play in/with. Something that enables us to connect with other people. Something that makes us feel good because we feel inspired, or like we have learned something, experienced something, gained something.

A little girl or a teenager might do this very thing with her bedroom, shaping and editing a space that speaks directly to her own needs, comforts and interests through things like colour, objects, sound, light, the combining of different elements. She is in fact using design to create happiness even if she does not think this consciously. And even earlier in life this happens – I was watching my six month old daughter in her cot today as she prepared to go to sleep. She mostly hates her daytime naps and will not fall asleep without a big cry and fight. But I noticed she likes to rub certain soft toys against her face when she is very sleepy and will often fall asleep with a toy or blanket pressed against her neck and cheek. Even at this tiny age she is learning what she needs in her environment to make her feel comfortable, content, safe, happy. Something soft, something close.

Maybe it is all about creating an experience; maybe happiness is all in the experience rather than something singular, static or clearly defined. A feeling of a journey? A feeling of a destination? Travelling, rambling, arriving? I do know that for me happiness equates in some way to beauty. Feeling beautiful (emotionally rather than purely physically), observing the beauty of a person, place or moment. And designing or creating wonderful environments can also link directly into beauty. Make it beautiful, make it well. Not necessarily a conventional or classic idea of beauty, but something that fascinates, delights, compels or sometimes shocks. What do you think?

*Image via ffffound on flickr.

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