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The Home Renovation Projects That Will Make You Happiest

If you own a home, you’ve probably at least contemplated making major, dramatic changes to it; having control over your shelter is important psychologically, and one way we exert that control is by changing it to better meet our needs. And we increasingly treat our homes as reflections of our emotional and mental state, often turning to renovation projects when we feel stuck or unhappy in other areas of our lives (for better or for worse).

We usually discuss home renovation projects in terms of return on investment (ROI) or the practical impact the change will have on our daily lives and our families. But there’s a crucial aspect of home remodeling that we should prioritize more: happiness. How happy will that home renovation project make you? The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has quantified this to some extent with their “Joy Score,” which asks homeowners to rate how happy a home renovation has made them. Combined with some other factors, it’s possible to come up with a list of the home renovation projects that will make you the happiest—and they’re not always the most expensive or ambitious.

Happiness-inducing indoor projects

Unsurprisingly, one of the key factors in any home renovation project is how well the end result meets the need that inspired it. If your kitchen is barely functional before the renovation and does everything you need after, you’re probably going to be pretty happy with the project (assuming no soul-killing problems like massive cost overruns or your contractor dropping an uber-expensive countertop just inches away from installation).

But the renovation projects that will make you happiest in the house are often the simplest. All of these renovations received a perfect Joy Score of 10, for example:

  • Painting. Painting the whole interior of your home or even just one room can be very, very satisfying. There’s some evidence that color has an explicit impact on your mental state, and many people subjectively experience a boost in mood with the right paint colors. Plus, painting is like literally erasing mistakes. Throw in the relatively low cost, speed, and ease of this project and the happiness factor is obvious.

  • Home office addition. This is all about solving problems. If you’re working from home and find yourself balancing your laptop on your knees in the bathroom, creating a dedicated office space can make you feel like you’re a professional.

  • New or refinished wood floors. Like paint on the walls, that new floor shine feels like shedding the mistakes of the past (like the time you dragged the couch to a new spot and left deep gouges in your floor). Plus the durability of the final result—an improvement that will last years—is very satisfying.

  • Closet renovation. Our closets are like a personal Portrait of Dorian Gray—the public-facing parts of our home might be neat and tidy while our closets are overflowing nightmares. Organizing always feels good, so it’s little wonder that creating order out of chaos in our closets makes us happy.

  • Attic conversion. Conquering an area of your house currently ruled by spiders is always going to make you feel better. Not only do you turn a dark and slightly dangerous place (where you can easily misstep and fall through the ceiling) into a functional and useful space, you gain square footage and increase your home’s value.

  • New insulation. This might be a surprising one, but not if you think about it: Not only does new or upgraded insulation improve your home’s energy efficiency, which feels good, it also makes your home more comfortable—which makes people want to spend more time there.

Happiness-inducing outdoor projects

Home renovations outside the house hit a little different, but access to outdoor spaces can have a huge positive impact on your overall happiness, so it’s not surprising that some of these projects score really high on the joy scale:

  • In-ground pool. A pool makes people want to spend more time in their homes, and gives them a higher sense of enjoyment of the property. Not only can you cool off and get some good exercise in a pool, you can also throw some pretty epic parties around one.

  • Landscape lighting. Another perfect Joy Score involves adding light to your outdoor spaces. Solid lighting design outside can turn a dark, foreboding yard into a beautiful spot you want to spend time in. It also increases a sense of security, since you can actually see what’s going on. Plus, it doesn’t have to be a complicated project—some solar lights, used thoughtfully, is all you need.

  • New patio or deck. Like the pool, a new patio area or deck makes people want to use their outdoor spaces more, because they provide comfortable areas to relax. A new patio or deck turns a blank canvas into an entertaining space or a spot for decompression, cocktails, and enjoying the fresh air.

  • Fire feature. Fire can have a positive psychological impact—it can be relaxing and meditative. It manages a Joy Score of 9.7 because it makes our outdoor spaces more inviting, gives them more “personality,” and increases the amount of time you can enjoy your yard, patio, or deck because it allows us to use those spaces even when it’s a little colder than we’d like.

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