Happiness is what everyone wants, desires and searches for. Everyone, without exception. What makes people happy determines the steps they take and the resources they use to accomplish this. But the ultimate goal is always the same. The search for happiness is a universal endeavour. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, thought it important enough to include the pursuit of happiness as a basic right in the Declaration of Independence.
Happiness gives people energy and self-confidence, and leads to helpfulness and creativity. It also contributes to better health. Happiness can lower blood pressure, has beneficial effects on the immune system and even reduces traffic accidents. So you could argue that happiness is a precious commodity indeed. However, money does not necessarily buy happiness. In fact, materialism often contributes to loneliness and, conversely, it is also true that happiness is an antidote to materialism. Happy people generally have higher life satisfaction.
The link between architecture and happiness
As the saying goes, happiness comes when you least expect it. But wouldn't it be fantastic if we could build dwellings in which we would stand a better chance of happiness, because we created or designed them ourselves? Can architecture influence happiness? We think it can. In fact, we are certain it can. And this is not only based on our own passion for architecture.
Environmental psychologists have carried out extensive research into the effects of the environment or architectural space on the brain. Their findings show that colour has a profound effect on our well-being. A predominantly grey and black environment reduces the secretion of 'happy hormones’ such as endorphins, whereas bright colours like white, green and blue trigger the release of these hormones. The same is true for being exposed to surroundings with or without natural light, or fully-furnished versus empty spaces. These factors can easily be taken into consideration when selecting colours or making interior design choices. Being aware of the function of spaces can also increase the chance of happiness. Research shows that social activities increase the production of endorphins. The same is true for casual conversation. Interaction, even with strangers, is scientifically proven to make us happier. In both cases, the released endorphins in the body produce a calming and relaxing effect, which in turn promotes feelings of trust and bonding between people. This facilitates cohesion between occupants or users.
Cohesion also plays a crucial role in the experience of happiness. A sense of belonging or feeling connected to social groups makes people happier. In contrast, being excluded is perceived as painful and in fact involves the same nerves and hormones involved in the experience of physical pain. A study showed that participants who were left alone in an empty room for 6 to 10 minutes without anything to distract them found the task of entertaining themselves with their own thoughts extremely unpleasant and negative. Social exclusion is, however, not the same thing as isolation. All the conducted studies show that people also need places to withdraw to relax.
Notably, people in Western societies associate happiness with pleasure, activity and even excitement, whereas in the East happiness is equated with peace of mind and equanimity. Both viewpoints are valid in their own way. By designing spaces that promote not only social interaction and fun but also allow room for relaxation and reflection, we can contribute to the happiness of its users.
Sustainability versus happiness
As mentioned before, happiness leads to greater health. The opposite is also true: poor health can be a cause of unhappiness. An overstimulated brain or being too busy can cause physical problems. And now that we mention it, if we are to believe the latest insights, sensory overload is the new smoking. Materials can also play a role in well-being and health. We are all familiar with 'sick building syndrome’ as a term that implies that a poorly designed or furnished building literally affects the well-being of those who spend time within it. This, in turn, is closely related to dissatisfaction or unhappiness. Spaces that encourage some form of mild distraction, even if it's just getting up, walking around the room or getting some fresh air can do wonders. Other important factors include opting for sustainable materials, healthy climate control and the design of, for example, a kitchen that encourages healthy cooking and healthy eating.
The conclusion is that architecture to a large extent determines how people will interact with each other and experience happiness. That is a wonderful fact to reflect upon. It's certainly something that makes us happy.