Why are our surroundings more important for our well-being than we imagine?
You’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo, a writer who advocates the importance of order in everything that surrounds us. The author of one of the best-selling books in the world (more than 2,000,000 million copies sold in Japan and more than 300,000 in the United States), and with a Netflix series called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, argues that a cleaner and tidier home leads to a more positive and happier lifestyle in general. But what is the reality behind this approach?
People are constantly interacting with our environment. When we leave work we see the street full of pedestrians and cars or perhaps we work in a less busy area, we hear the noise of traffic or the chirping of birds, when we get home we see a beautiful garden full of brightly colored flowers or a gray, half-abandoned building, sometimes we walk through wide, clear settings and other times through narrow, crowded environments. All of these aspects touch us in some way. We are surrounded by a natural, but also social environment that, of course, affects not only our performance, but also our state of mind.
A study conducted by American doctor Nancy Wells at Cornell University confirms that there is a relationship between housing quality and the mental health of the people who live there. Apparently, a house of better overall quality (in terms of aesthetics, clutter/cleanliness, indoor temperature, hazards, overcrowding) is associated with lower levels of psychological stress in both children and adults.
Her research also suggests that children develop better attention-related skills if they are surrounded by nature. To investigate this, they moved seventeen children from low-income homes to high-status housing surrounded by nature. They found that the children’s performance improved as a function of the quantity of nature surrounding their new homes. Researchers Kuo and Sullivan from the University of Illinois also concluded that people who were in contact with greenery had significantly lower levels of aggression and violence compared to others.
One example of the importance of the environment is something as simple as color. Numerous studies show that the colors around us impact our emotions and mood. In fact, ancient peoples believed that colors give off a natural energy that affects individuals. The reality is that color, composed of light and energy, has the ability to stimulate our senses.
For example, red, orange and yellow tones are used in advertising to attract the consumer’s attention. In fact, signs announcing a possible danger (cautionary) are often red or yellow, and red is also the color often used to highlight discounted products. In contrast, bluer colors provoke a certain sense of calm, relaxation and safety. Advertisements use them to evoke the feeling of peace and stability.
The spaces we occupy, their shapes and layouts, the context that surrounds us and its characteristics influence our daily well-being. Environmental or ecological psychology is the branch of psychology that looks at these aspects and analyzes the impact of certain changes on our well-being and even on our health. We can conclude, therefore, that our environs have a modest effect on our state of mind but when this is maintained and accumulated over time, it can become quite important. Although there may be some things we cannot change, others depend on us. Here’s an idea: make a medium and long term plan of how to improve your daily environment to generate “better” surroundings and thereby promote your well-being.