My rules for life
May 17, 2020
May 2, 2020
This post is an edited version of the Introduction to my new book, Happy Inside. It’s called Awakening because before we start any element of home-making, we must understand what we are trying to achieve. And I’m posting it here, in full, because, what with all things Corona, you can’t exactly get out and have a little flick through a copy. And while I might optimistically hope that you’d be intrigued enough to take a punt and order a copy anyway, I appreciate that books aren’t cheap. Besides, I want you to be sure it’s the right book for you.
‘PEACE. IT DOES NOT MEAN TO BE IN A PLACE WHERE THERE IS NO NOISE, TROUBLE OR HARD WORK. IT MEANS TO BE IN THE MIDST OF THOSE THINGS AND STILL BE CALM IN YOUR HEART.’ ANONYMOUS
Happy Inside is a new way of thinking about your home. A path to a more empowered you, as well as something of a manifesto for self-responsibility. Because, the establishment of a happy home – one that makes you feel fantastic, not one that just looks good – can be the ultimate foundation for the life you dare to dream of having, and the nurturing relationships that you need to believe you deserve.
From such a space you can achieve a sense of emotional balance that will assist you in finding your true purpose and fulfilling your potential. It can be the launch pad from which to achieve a sense of flow in your work. Most importantly, it will be your place of retreat and recovery when the winds of change and the inevitable curveballs of life attempt to knock you, or your loved ones, off course.
After all, home should be a place that restores, rejuvenates and replenishes, but so often it does not. Instead, it can sabotage heartfelt desires by dampening your emotions and causing undue stress and strife. Your home also acts as a mirror to the current state of your emotions, thus amplifying both nurturing or unwelcome states of being. Whether you’re happy or stressed, tired or relaxed, your home will reflect, and magnify, it all. So, if you want positive personal change of any sort, you must first address your environment.
After all, we all need homes that support, rather than undermine, our wellbeing.
For the purposes of this book, I understand it to be a state of self whereby you feel ready to seize each day as it comes, whatever it may throw at you. In other words, that you operate from a solid foundation of balanced contentment – of happiness. And this is no wishy-washy conceit. Life today is increasingly unpredictable, hectic, fast and always ‘on’, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
We are in the midst of what has been dubbed ‘the Age of Anxiety’, in which the superficial seems to reign supreme, infamy is more desirable than respect, consumerism is promoted at every turn and the digital realm appears to have superseded reality. Against such a backdrop it is understandable to feel increasingly overwhelmed, and many in the West are struggling to cope with rising levels of poor mental health, obesity and chronic illness.
And yet, while many supposed ‘cures’ treat the symptoms, they appear to do little to address what might lie behind such a growth in recorded disease. And this should be cause for great concern.
For all our advanced technology and supposed sophistication, we are at heart primal, emotional beings, which means that to feel centred, healthy and happy, we also need to feel safe, secure and protected. It is therefore increasingly essential that our homes support us, as nurturing, sensory, tactile retreats, not so much as insulation from contemporary life, but strengthening us, body and soul, to deal with it.
Thankfully, whatever the size of your current home, whether it’s rented or owned, and regardless of your present financial status, you have at your fingertips the most extraordinary potential. It simply needs to be awakened, and then harnessed in your favour.
After all, according to decades of research, happy people live longer, exhibit fewer mental health issues, have more friends and do better at work, so it behoves us all to do everything possible to get with the happy inside programme. And happiness can be quantified, which means that there are measurable steps that can be taken towards its attainment. In the opinion of Martin Seligman, widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of the positive psychology movement, our individual states of happiness, or wellbeing, can be measured via five key contributing factors:
1 OUR ABILITY TO ENGENDER POSITIVE EMOTIONS
2 ENGAGEMENT IN ACTIVITIES THAT ALLOW US TO LOSE OURSELVES IN THE MOMENT
3 THE NATURE OF OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS
4 A SENSE OF BELONGING TO, AND SERVING, SOMETHING BIGGER THAN OURSELVES
5 ACCOMPLISHMENT, WHERE ACHIEVEMENT IS PURSUED FOR ITS OWN SATISFACTION NOT EXTERIOR VALIDATION
To this I would also add the degree to which you feel in charge of your own destiny, and how much you consider that your very existence makes a difference to the world, at any level.
Crucially, though, this is not about setting yourself up against ridiculous aesthetic standards. For example, by comparing your home with Instagram’s constant, but highly curated, parade of interiors loveliness. Rather, the intention is to give you some ideas and recommendations, alongside the benefit of my hard-earned experience and a few tricks of the trade.
This will help you to set up your home, and a way of living within it, to get you where you want to be at your own pace. There are no rules, per se, because there can be no absolutes or definitive answers when embarking on such a journey. It’s ultimately up to you to make these suggestions your own. Besides, putting yourself under pressure ‘to be happy’ is more likely to derail any attempt than promote it.
Because, as the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, ‘Knowing thyself is the beginning of all wisdom’. So, do you know who you are? And more importantly, is this who you really want to be?
That might seem an odd question, but bear with me. I once took part in a ‘life- coaching’ exercise that at first sounded rather macabre. It was this: write your own eulogy. Shocked? Don’t be. The point is to articulate how you would like to be remembered. And once you’ve done it, to ask yourself if you are that person today.
After all, it’s easy to look across the tracks and see successful people (however you might define ‘success’), or those who appear to have found their purpose, or who radiate joy, and wonder what their secret is. We muse that perhaps they’ve only achieved it because they were born in the right place and at the right time or were just lucky. It is much harder to think of our destiny or happiness as not only our own responsibility but also as something within our capacity to change, even if not to control.
Thus, as an exercise in self-reflection, contemplating your eulogy will show you who you truly aspire to be, and I’d encourage you to do it before you begin your home-health journey because it will in turn inspire a more holistic perspective on your #happyinside goals. To put it another way, rather than asking yourself what do I want to achieve with my home, start with the question who do I want to be?
For example, you may already be thinking that you would like to be tidier, slimmer, fitter or better organised. But are these the qualities or characteristics that you’d want applauded at your funeral? Instead, might you wish to be remembered as someone who always had time for their friends? Someone who was a good listener? Someone who was seen to be calm in the face of adversity? A patient parent? Or an inspiring boss?
These are the qualities of someone who is resilient, someone who can maintain their sense of self, integrity and ethical ambition, no matter what. These surely are the characteristics we should all aspire to?
Not least because the pursuit of happiness is a multi-faceted endeavour. As we examined earlier, it can only benefit from being considered from all angles. Besides, if you set your sights on some of the above, you may well become tidier, slimmer, fitter and so forth along the way. But most crucially, and the core message of my book, is that you’ll make everything a lot easier for yourself if you have your home on side to support you.
Each stage is not hard in itself to achieve, but each requires genuine belief and commitment. My desire is for you to acquire new habits for the everyday rather than prompting a one-off burst of overzealous endeavour. And be patient. My rule of thumb is that you can only effect significant change in a minimum of 90 days.
This process should therefore be understood as a continuous journey of evolution, just as we ourselves are constant works in progress when it comes to self-development. A desire to ‘get the house done’ within a set time frame helps no one. Just as an attitude of getting personally ‘fixed’ is similarly flawed, if not unachievable. Certainly there will be a moment when particular rooms just feel right, and thus we feel good within them. This is what we’re aiming for. Nevertheless, to repeat, it’ll be at least three months before you really notice a difference.
This isn’t about racing to completion. In so many ways, the key to happiness is to focus on the process.
If you have resolved to set off on this path to becoming #happyinside (both inwardly and outwardly), be sure to be doing it for yourself. Don’t half-heartedly shift around a few chairs and throw out some old cushions and then sit back and wait for it to happen. If you don’t believe it will help, then it won’t – the motivation behind any desire for change is as important as the intention to change in itself.
Doing up a property to maximise profit on a sale is one thing, curating your individual corner of the world for the benefit of your own wellbeing is quite another. My book is devoted to the latter pursuit. So if you want to take the leap of faith that the state of your surroundings impacts every aspect of your life, then get the whole of your family, however you define it, on board for the exciting journey that is becoming #happyinside.
You can read more about each chapter here.
Or for order details, please click here.
PS Thank you for reading this, and if you’d like to know when I next post something, you can subscribe here.
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.