Happy by Design (affiliate link) is a relatively new book written by Victoria Harrison, who you may know as the Editor of Houzz. She is also a columnist for the Metro and i newspaper and has over 14 years experience writing for consumer magazines like Ideal Home, House Beautiful, The English Home and Real Homes.
I received this book to review a few months ago now and the reason why it’s taken me so long to post about it is because I have been using it as a kind of manual. I’ve been slowly working my way through the advice that it contains and seeing if it can make a difference to my health and happiness at home.
As soon as I picked this book up, I knew that it contained a lot of helpful advice on how to design your own happiness and I was quite surprised to see that I was already implementing some of Victoria’s tips. But there were also things that I had not considered and a lot of things that I can improve upon.
How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air
The book is divided into 11 chapters or sections, each one addressing a different aspect of how you can design your own happiness. The first section is all about growing your own fresh air and describes the many benefits that bringing plants into our homes can bring us. Long term readers will know that I have a very bad track record with plants, but since reading the Urban Jungle Bloggers book I have gained in confidence and now have a (reasonably) happy plant gang at home. But if anyone can tell me how to keep an Aloe Vera healthy I’m all ears!
This first chapter gives detailed information on why plants make such great house mates, how to pick the right ones for your home and gives 10 tips on decorating with plants. Over the past two years, I’ve slowly become better at choosing the right plants for our home but this book contains some very useful suggestions.
I’ve recently moved some plants into the bedroom, but I have now learnt that there are some plants that actually give out oxygen at night making them great sleep companions. Aloe Vera is on the list for example, but I don’t fancy torturing another so I’ll have to study the recommendations to find some plants that are easy to care for.
How to Decorate with the Happiest Colour
The second chapter looks at how colour can affect the way we feel and offers advice for using colour in the home. It details a study undertaken by a team at the University of Manchester that showed yellow as the happiest colour and grey as the unhappiest. Victoria also gained some interesting insights from Joa Studholme, International Colour Consultant for Farrow & Ball.
I was a little skeptical about this chapter as yellow is not really the colour that makes me most happy. In fact, I think yellow is one of my least favourite colours. It makes me feel quite unsettled and anxious so it’s definitely not a colour I would like to decorate my home with. However, right at the end, Victoria explains that colour is a very personal thing and offers some tips for finding your own happy colour.
My happy colours are navy blue (all my clothes are navy…and I mean all of them!) and dark green. Since I’ve banished the magnolia in our flat and decorated with navy and green I feel a million times better about our home. You can read about my living room makeover here.
Tidy Your Way to Happiness
Now this is the chapter where things tend to fall apart for me. I used to have a really tidy home and I never gave it a second thought. Before having children, my husband and I lived in a rented three bedroom house so there was plenty of room to house our worldly possessions. We both had our own offices and it was pure bliss.
Now we live in a small two bedroom flat with our two girls and an unbelieveable amount of stuff. Stuff everywhere!!! I had no idea that children come with so much stuff. It’s totally and utterly overwhelming and something I struggle with daily. Things are getting a little easier though as we work out how to best use the space we have available. Also the girls are roughly the same size now so I’ve been able to scale back the amount of clothes and shoes they need as they can now share.
But this is one chapter that I really need to dedicate some more time to. I always feel like our home is an absolute bomb site. We did spend this past weekend having another good clear out though. Personally, I’d love to live a more streamlined and minimal life. But my husband likes to hang on to A LOT of stuff for the memories. It drives me nuts!!!!
Unlock the Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep
This is a very emotive chapter for me having only just managed to achieve a relatively good night’s sleep. I’ve spent the past five years only getting very broken sleep as my girls were not yet sleeping through the night. My youngest still doesn’t, but she only wakes up once or twice now rather than 6-8 times a night.
Now that I am managing to get some sleep, I don’t actually know how I managed to survive. In this chapter Victoria consults Lisa Artis of The Sleep Council to find out why good quality sleep is important and how to achieve it. Lisa details the top four reasons for broken sleep and how to remedy them. There are also tips for improving your bedtime routine which are well worth exploring. (Note to self, STOP reading your phone in bed!!)
Finally, this chapter looks at how your bed can have an impact on whether or not you are able to get a good night’s sleep and whether you should consider getting a new one. We have recently got a new bed and I can’t tell you what a difference it has made to our quality of sleep. We now have the Charley storage bed from Made.com (affiliate link) which is my dream bed. I’m not lying when I say that it took me YEARS to find the perfect bed.
I love that this one has so much storage, which has also helped to keep the bedroom a bit tidier. We also realised when we dismantled our old bed that it was broken, the wooden base was actually splintered. So no wonder my husband was waking up in pain every morning. He also identified our pillows as the cause of his neck problem. We’ve now got some new OTTY pillows (gifted) which I’ll be reviewing very soon.
And since writing a post about home fever and how your mattress could be triggering your allergies we decided it was time to get a new mattress. We’d only had our Dormeo mattress for four years, well below the recommended eight years for replacing your mattress, but all the talk of dust mites and their faeces made me feel a bit sick. So I’ll soon be reviewing our new OTTY hybrid mattress (gifted) too. So keep your eyes peeled for that.
So needless to say, with a new bed, new mattress and pillows, and new bedding, we are sleeping much better. Just need to work on the no-tech-in-the-bedroom side of things and we’ll be sorted!
Discover the Happiest Scents
Chapter 5 looks at how we can use scent to shape and improve our mood at home. It explores how scent is closely linked to memory, how it can make us happy, improve our sleep, boost our energy and increase our happiness. It offers advice on choosing the right scent for each room (something I struggle with) and banishing bad odours from our home. It also details the different ways we can add scent to our homes from scented candles and oil burners, to fresh flowers and herbs, reed diffusers and sprays.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of scented candles so I don’t tend to use them very often. Candles and kids are just not a good combination. I’ve recently discovered reed diffusers since trying my first one, which you can read about here. That one has sadly run out so I’ve been on the hunt for a new scent. I was kindly sent some new products to try from Miller Harris (gifted) that included a room spray and a new reed diffuser.
I was able to sample the Periwinkle room spray which is a limited edition home scent that evokes far flung places and exotic scents blown from shore on a salty breeze. It has oriental and aquatic undertones that inspire a spirit of adventure. It smells of orchids, incense, woods and musk and it’s really quite pleasant. I love how fresh it is and I find it’s lovely to use early in the morning when I need a bit of a wake up call.
The reed diffuser I received is Narcoflor which is again a limited edition. It smells like a huge bouquet of flowers with notes of freesia, rich plum, heady lilies, gardenia, tuberose, jasmine, carnation and orange blossom. I’m actually not a massive fan of floral scents. I prefer more masculine smells like wood, tobacco, smoke and leather so I probably wouldn’t choose this particular scent for my home. But Mossket sounds right up my street with its notes of carrot, elemi and violet, resting on leather and woods. I’d definitely like to give this one a try.
Harness the Mood-Boosting Power of Flowers
This chapter explains how flowers have the power to boost our mood and advises how to keep them alive for longer, how to arrange a bouquet and even how to arrange flowers to suit your interior style. It also gives ideas of household objects that you can turn into vases like empty liquor bottles and jam jars. There are also tips for growing your own flowers.
As I’m not really into floral scents, I’m also not really into flowers. I’d rather invest my money into plants that last a lot longer as it seems like a waste to buy flowers when they die so quickly. However, I am now considering buying some faux flowers as I do really like the way that flowers look. If faux is not for you, I recently heard about The Magic Flower Company who sell real long-lasting preserved flowers that last for at least a year. Spending £40 on a flower arrangement doesn’t seem quite so painful if you know they will last a year, right?
Shine a Light on Wellbeing
Chapter 8 explores how natural light can make us happier and healthier and looks at way that we can help to boost the light levels in our homes. From simple things like using mirrors to bounce light around and keeping windowsills clear to more structural things like replacing doors with ones that have glass panels and opening up the stairs, there are plenty of things we can do to our homes to bring more light in.
The winter months can be tough for a lot of people as we are exposed to a lot less natural light. Darker mornings and evenings mean those of us who work often leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark. This can seriously affect our health and well-being, leading many of us to suffer from Seasonal Affected Disorder.
I’ve written about our struggle with this before and you can read the post about how I overcome the winter blues here. We actually use a SAD light at home during the winter months and have found that this really helps. I’ve also been looking into special alarm clocks that wake you up gently with light that mimics the sunrise and will then mimic a sunset of an evening. I really like this idea.
How to Create a Cosy Retreat
This chapter is all about the hygge! Victoria looks at how warmth, texture and security can help us to increase the cosy factor at home and create a space that nourishes and nurtures. She offers up five quick ways to cosy up the home on a budget as well as 10 lessons we can learn from the Danes.
She explores how candles, real fires and wood burners can help us bring warmth to our homes and walks us through the hows and why of creating a cosy reading nook.
Obviously, as winter approaches, I, like everybody else, have started to make an attempt to cosy up our home. I’ve got the big blankets out, I’m looking at stocking up on some new cushions as ours are looking pretty tatty now. The copper fairy lights are back out and I have got some exciting new pillar candles (gifted) from a local Devon-based company called Candled.
These are no ordinary candles though, they are luxury hand-crafted LED candles with a real wax finish. So they are flameless and safe as well as being eco-friendly. Absolutely perfect for families with small children or pets who present a distinct danger around naked flames. I’ll be doing a full post on these candles soon so check back if you’re interested or subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss it.
Wish Happiness for Others
Chapter 9 examines how we can become happier by wishing happiness for others. In being compassionate we can actually improve our own well-being. Victoria suggests engaging in small random acts of kindness, being a good neighbour and nurturing relationships with those closest to you. It also looks at the benefits of having pets.
Unearth Happiness in the Garden
For chapter 10, Victoria looks at how spending more time in contact with nature can make us happier and healthier and shares her tips for making the most of our outdoor spaces. She gives advice for non-gardeners, talks about growing your own food and even offers advice on creating an outdoor living room.
As you know, we did a garden makeover back in 2017 when we created a large decked area. We kitted it out like an outdoor living room and as a consequence we basically lived out in the garden this past summer. We cooked and ate outdoors at every opportunity and had friends over ALOT. I cannot tell you what a difference this made to our well-being. We obviously benefitted from all the vitamin D and fresh air, and the kids loved spending time outside. We now feel ready to face winter, because we’ve actually had a decent summer and spent so much time in the garden.
How to Be Smarter Than Your Smart Phone
The final chapter is one where I have to hold my hands up and admit failure. Victoria talks about the happiness that can be found by unplugging, disconnecting and instead enjoying the simple pleasures in the ‘real world’. Being a blogger means I probably spend a lot more time online than your average person. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do and share it all with you guys if I didn’t spend this time online.
However, you can definitely spend too much time online and social media and constant phone checking has been proven to make us feel more stressed. We also compare ourselves to others and judge our own lives and happiness by the highly curated images that we see on our social media feeds…Instagram has a lot to answer for! This is the section of the book that I really need to focus on most. After all, what good is having a beautiful happy home if you’re too busy hanging out in the virtual world to really enjoy it?
Working my way through Victoria’s book has really helped me to focus my energy when it comes to creating a happy, healthy home. I feel like I’ve been on a great journey (which is why this is such a mammoth post…well done to those of you who have got this far! I hope I haven’t bored you too much?) and I am now so much more aware of how possible it is to design your own happiness. Happiness is not something to be left to chance. It needs to be create, nurtured and nourished and actually, when you break it down, like Victoria has done here, it’s really not that difficult to achieve. Why not buy the book (affiliate link) and have a go yourself?