I’ve long been fascinated by the impact our surroundings have on our mood. Other people must realise the importance of this too, otherwise I doubt we’d make the investment in beautifying our public and private spaces. Numerous studies confirm the effect our surroundings have on our wellbeing, yet I think that close to home, the impact of this can often be overlooked and many of us live in unloved, impersonal and perhaps cluttered spaces.

I also think that if we can tune ourselves in to being more aware of the impact our surroundings can have, we’ll be more able to appreciate the beauty around us and we’ll be more likely to take care of the space and maybe even the wider environment.

I’ve lived in many many places, plenty of them tiny dark rented spaces, but one thing’s for sure, I’ve done my best to shape them to make me feel better. Whether you live in a caravan, a studio or a grand house, you CAN make a positive impact on the way you feel by doing a few simple things.


Lighten up
Being in light, bright spaces literally uplifts us. It can also enhance our mood. Want to feel calm and relaxed? Use warm lighting or even light a candle. Be aware of the impact of colour.


Having read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life changing magic of tidying up” several years ago and just watched a little of her series on Netflix recently, it is fascinating to see the far-reaching impact her method of tidying and de-cluttering has on the people she works with. It’s as if dealing with the physical “stuff’ has a deep connection with releasing the emotional baggage many of the people are carrying around. Such a profound effect the de-cluttering appears to have, a weight literally and metaphorically lifted. I’m not naturally a tidy person myself, but as I have trained myself to become more so, I think my sense of order, organisation and productivity have significantly improved and I feel far less overwhelmed than I used to.


Make it yours
Tiny apartment or large mansion, I genuinely believe that by personalising our space to make it “ours” makes us feel more connected, contented and “at home” rather than just feeling we are living in (perhaps someone elses) impersonal box. I think that sometimes people think that if the home isn’t grand or doesn’t belong to them, then what is the point in investing time or money to make it more homely.

My key messages here are that just because a house doesn’t belong to you doesn’t mean that you can’t make it a place that enhances your wellbeing. …and also, that it needn’t have to cost a lot to do so. The things you can buy in garage sales, 2nd hand shops and online! Hang up your kids’ colourful artwork, blu-tack cuttings out of magazines and free postcards – it’s easy to find bright and attractive things to look at.

I lived in Sydney for several years and twice a year the council publicised a “swap day” where you put all your old stuff on the grass verge outside your house for others to take away what they wanted – kind of like a neighbourhood-wide free garage sale. Such a fun day going out and “gathering” free stuff. We practically furnished our house like this and it felt great to give away things that we no longer needed. I’ve often wondered about trying to set this up here.


Grand designs
Look for beautiful places to be in – both natural and human-made. In my view one of the responsibilities our public decision-makers have is to create public spaces that uplift and enhance the wellbeing of all of us. Does a building need to be ugly to be cost-effective? I think not and I think the impact our built landscape has plays a significant role in influencing our mood. Form and function together making our experience of life better. Most of us can’t afford to own a grand design of our own, but we can still enjoy and appreciate being in uplifting public surroundings. In Christchurch it’s exciting to see some of these new spaces being created such as Margaret Mahy playground and Tūranga our central public library.


Go natural
I’ve spoken about this before, but I think it is hugely important. In Christchurch, indeed New Zealand, we are so fortunate to live with a variety of beautiful natural landscapes within relatively close proximity, yet I think many people rarely get out there into it. Being in nature can have a profound affect on our mood by helping us press the “re-set” button on our stress and helping to soothe away our everyday cares.

Many cultures embrace the healing effects of nature and in Japan they even have a word for it: “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing”. You can star gaze, or smell the roses walking around your own block, head to the Botanic Gardens or go for a walk in the hills or along the beach. No need to travel too far to gain the mental and physical wellbeing benefits of being in and appreciating the natural environment.


Make it cosy
The Danish concept of hygge – “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being” has taken the world by storm in recent years. Yes we can envy the seemingly effortless cool of Scandinavian design, but it’s easy enough to create some hygge in your own spot by rugging up in cosy clothes, lighting candles, enjoying the fire (if you have one) and pouring yourself a cup of tea.

Simply profound.