The power of our surroundings to influence our state of mind

Torquay Pavilion

It would be lovely if Torquay Pavilion could become a dance hall. - Credit: Getty Images

The spaces and places where we spend our day-to-day lives have a proven impact on our wellbeing.

By now, most of us have heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese consultant famous for helping her clients, and the wider world though her books and TV show, to declutter their homes.

Kondo encourages people to keep only those items that ‘spark joy’, and that we use regularly, and to organise them in a clear and easily accessible way.

For those of us with a lifetime’s worth of belongings hoarded in a garage or cupboard, and a wardrobe full of items we never wear but are hanging on to just in case, Kondo’s advice may seem hard to follow, but doing just that can be of real benefit.

I know from experience that a well-ordered living and working space makes my mind feel clearer, reduces my anxiety and helps me to function well.

The time taken to do the clearing and cleaning is made up for many times over by the productivity and peace of mind that result.

I learned during the months I spent observing life in India that less really can be more when it comes to mental focus, establishing healthy routines and appreciating and looking after the things that we do have.

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Aesthetics are also important. Many people spent time during lockdown on home improvement projects they had been meaning to get around to for far too long.

I hope if you were one of them that, as a result, the colour schemes and layouts of the places where you wake every morning and close your eyes every evening make you feel the perfect combination of motivated and peaceful, or at least a little more healthy than you did before.

Of course, the power of our surroundings to influence our state of mind stretches way past the walls of our homes.

The buildings and spaces that we walk and drive past and spend time in and around every day have the power to inspire and lift us, or do the opposite.

A few years ago I read a book called Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee on just this topic.

The book is all about how the physical world impacts our mental and emotional health, and it tells some fascinating stories.

Two of the most memorable are of the transformation of Tirana, the capital city of Albania, where a restoration project involving only the external repainting of buildings led to a dramatic decrease in crime, and a women’s prison where the simple addition of some pastel-coloured tiles in a shower block led to a transformation in behaviour.

I was talking recently to my aunty, a dance teacher, about The Pavilion in Torquay, and how important the building is not only historically but aesthetically.

We discussed the idea of it becoming a dance hall, where people could come together and take part in an activity that sparks joy inside a building that does the same, ticking mental, emotional and physical wellbeing boxes all at once.

How lovely that would be, and what a great way to breathe life back into a beautiful place hat has been left to decay for too many years.

As I write this I think with a heavy heart about the people attempting to flee Afghanistan, leaving behind the spaces and places and belongings that have been integral to their everyday lives and their wellbeing until now.

Let’s all try to be more aware of and grateful for the spaces and places we are lucky enough to call home, and do our very best to make the most of them.