I’ve recently re-read Alain de Botton’s Architecture of Happiness, a very popular book that deals with much of what I’m trying to learn about, though from a different, philosophic perspective. One of the book’s starting ideas comes from another author: beauty is a promise of happiness, wrote Stendhal and de Botton discusses what this idea means in the world of architecture. His interpretation is that we perceive a building as beautiful if we can imagine ourselves living happily in it.
I often wondered how to translate these kind of observations and ideas into research domain. An opportunity to investigate the relations between buildings, especially homes, and happiness came from my work in school. In a popular optional homework called „Buy a Home“ my students were supposed to go to a real estate search website and find a home they wanted to “buy”. There was no money limit, but it had to be a property they would be able to take care of on their own (no butlers and housemaids allowed, so they don’t drift too far from the reality).
“Our Dream House No.1” by Ron Cogswell
Then they copied images of the chosen home and described it, as well as their decision-making process. Another task was to describe their imagined life in that home, their conclusions about what was important to them in life, and their plans and resources to achieve some part of their aspirations.
“Humble Home” by Shane Gorski
Initially, I hadn’t offered this homework with environmental psychology in mind. It was supposed to be a bit like a projective technique. Thinking about real estate was just a fun way to get my students to think about themselves, their future and goals. However, as the essays piled (even though there were over 20 optional assignments to choose from), I was more and more intrigued by the many responses I got.
“Dream House” by Constanza
In part, the homeworks were quite similar – most of my students recognized the value of persistence and hard work in achieving what they saw as a good life; most of them stressed the importance of having family and friends to share their life with and they generally showed very mature, balanced and flexible outlook on what they expected from their future.
However, there were some interesting differences – the most noticeable were the actual homes they had chosen – take a look at some of them:
As you can see, the ideal homes ranged from typical homes near Varaždin in Croatia where we live, to very expensive homes abroad, most often in big cities they knew only from TV. I wondered what could explain my students’ choices, so I suggested a small project to investigate the relations between them and the homes they saw as ideal. Most of the students agreed to participate and answered some additional questions about life satisfaction, interests and school performance. I also took into account their results on five factor model personality traits (previously gathered for obligatory homework).
“Home Sweet Home” by elbyincali
One question I tried to answer in our little project was what explained happiness in general. Among factors I took into consideration, the quality of student’s family relations and their personality traits explained a significant part of their life satisfaction. However, there were great differences among two groups of students in their responses .
“Dream house” by Theophilos Papadopoulos
One group found their dream homes close to where they live – those homes were also close to the standard of living they have now, and represented (hopefully) realistic, achievable goals for their future.
The other group went far from the life as they knew it – in terms of actual physical distance from where they lived, but also in terms of the standard of living (the chosen homes were not just typical homes in those areas, but very expensive).
“Dream Home” by mallix
The question I tried to answer was how those two groups differ in terms of school performance, life satisfaction and personality traits. The first group’s choice basically says that „ideal living can be achieved close to what is known to me“, and the other group’s choice says „I dream of things and experiences very different from what my life here is right now“.
“Dream Home” by Prabhu B Doss
Much to my surprise there weren’t any differences in school performance , personality traits, or level of life satisfaction (except the satisfaction with our own country) between those two groups. However, there were some differences in what contributes to their satisfaction.
For those who chose a home in Croatia, life satisfaction was related to conscientiousness and negatively related to neuroticism. For those who looked for happiness far away from home, happiness was related to school performance and negatively to extraversion and openness to experience.
Varaždin, Croatia by János Korom Dr.
To understand these results, we might use one of the most interesting researches published this year by Jokela et al. on the relations between neighborhood, personality and happiness. In short, high extraversion and low neuroticism were related to happiness. But, it’s interesting that in low-income neighborhoods, good predictors of life satisfaction were consciousness and agreeableness. This is very similar to my students’results whose ideal home is close to where they live now and who also chose more modest homes – they are happy if they are conscientious.
“My Dream House” by Riza Nugraha
Another interesting finding by Jokela and his colleagues is that the traits most related with a part of city where people live are extraversion and openness – people scoring high on those traits tend to live in the city centre, seeking stimulation and rich social life (extraversion), and diversity of cultural experiences (openness). It is thus not so unusual that my students who see ideal life in one of the big urban centres are unsatisfied in a small town if they are extraverted and very open to experience.
“Dream house” by nealpage
This is just a short overview of my results and most definitely not a scientific research, but just a small school project that offered some partial answers to what makes my students happy and what their (day) dreams reveal about them. However, I believe these results give some credit to the idea that the home that appeals to us says something about happiness as what we see it. Hopefully, it will inspire further investigations on what makes a dream home for us and what is important for our happiness.
Botton, A. (2006). The architecture of happiness. New York: Pantheon Books.
Jokela, M., Bleidorn, W., Lamb, M.E., Gosling, S.D., and Rentfrow, P-J. (2015) Geographically varying associations between personality and life satisfaction in the London metropolitan area. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(3), 725–730.