Our homes are lenses through which we can see who we are and how we live. From the light in a room, to the colors we choose, to the shapes and textures of our furnishings, design elements influence how we feel, behave and perform. A growing body of scientific, architectural and spiritual findings shows that the spaces we inhabit are expressions of what is really going on with us—as within, so without, as a common saying goes. There is a notable correlation between the creation of “beautiful” spaces and meaningful, satisfying and joyful experiences. Further, when we align our internal and external environments, we can consciously create spaces that reflect us and who we want to be.
Take a quick look around your home. How does the space feel? Does it evoke the expansive “ahhhh,” or the contracting “ugh?” This simple exercise is a great way to note areas of our homes and lives that reflect a need for change. This can be a pile of papers we’ll go through later, decor that no longer serves our taste or needs, or perhaps an office that could be more inspiring. These all send daily messages that contribute to a state of expansion or one of contraction; they directly affect our mood and sense of well-being. As much as a space can elevate us, spaces can also influence whether we feel tired, foggy, unmotivated, and even depressed or anxious. Since the majority of us spending 90 percent of our time indoors, awareness of this direct relationship is more important now than ever.
Design = Self-Care
Taking the best possible care of ourselves and our homes is not an indulgence, but rather an act of self-care. It is not a materialistic or trivial process. Taking time to optimize our homes for happiness and create safe spaces to decompress is valuable and necessary. Just like other types of self-care, designing havens where we can unravel, relax and reboot helps us to build up our resilience in a demanding world. “The physical world can be a powerful resource to us in creating happier, healthier lives,” says Ingrid Fettel Lee, a designer and the author of Joyful: the Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.
In fact, our homes are foundational resources for getting our needs met. This ranges from basic survival— shelter, security, water and food—to the deeper soul needs of privacy, connection, contribution and personal growth.
“I think a lot about the psychology of spaces—the intention of architecture,” says Jason Silva in his YouTube clip, Why Design Matters. “The capacity of dwellings to inform our inner world. You walk into a room and you start feeling better, and you don’t quite know why,” Silva muses. He observes the influence that shape, texture, light, color and sound have upon us. “When you design the without, you design the within.”
The Impact of Beauty
Is this why we crave beauty, symmetry and balance? Or why we have chill-inducing, emotional responses to aesthetics and space—that piece of art, serene setting or a texture we can’t help but touch? Perhaps it’s because beauty inspires, invites contemplation and evokes enjoyment. For centuries, artists have celebrated this notion, evidenced by the musings of the novelist and poet, Alice Walker. “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul,” she says.
Increasingly, designers, architects, interior environmentalists and design psychologists are harnessing the power of beauty; they have begun to actively apply it to our homes and beyond.
“True beauty in design is when the two [functional and aesthetic elements] work so seamlessly with each other, it feels like poetry walking in the space,” says Jay Dee Dearness, whose PhD focuses on the intersection of beauty and design. A well-designed space is not just something that individuals move through, but rather a key influence on a dweller’s health, happiness and overall sensory experience.
As much as our spaces shape us, we shape our spaces. Where we live and what we live with are extensions of who we are. They are physical renderings of our emotional state and needs, and a reflection of our thoughts, dreams and issues. It isn’t just about the walls or objects that surround us; it is also about the energy we use to fill it. Our homes tell the stories of our lives in the past as they play out in the present, and how they inevitably impact our futures. Understanding the integral relationship between ourselves and our spaces is key to promoting balance and well-being in many areas of our lives, including our health, level of organization, spaces to create memories and our overall environments.
As a growing field, design psychology is a process of reflection meant to help us explore our deepest sense of home and place—past, present and future. This holistic approach to design allows us to dive into designing the spaces, and, in turn, the lives we love. The goal is to offer us insight into what’s going on within us and how it plays out around us. Whether we are simply freshening up our spaces or looking to experience greater flow in our lives, creating havens begins with us.
Founder of the field of design psychology, Toby Israel, PhD, hopes this growing design niche will help people to, “become more conscious of the meaning that the environment holds for them, and encourage all to more consciously create homes and other places that express a fulfilling self/place bond.”
This self/place bond becomes more clearly defined when we have a concept of our personal likes and dislikes, particular needs and desires, and a sense of what our unique histories bring to the table. Our personal lifestyles and goals need to come before our designer’s ideas, what our friends or neighbors are doing, or what any other strong voices that weigh in on our lives have to say. It is critical to connect with our own taste and values, beyond trends or the influence of others.
Living life by design invites us to bring awareness to what we love, and actively infuse our lives with it. When our spaces reflect beauty, balance and items that we love, we’ll see the positive impact ripple into other areas of our lives.