Home sweet home - What makes a happy home?

A happy home is a safe haven, where everyone should be able to be themselves and feel good. The communality of the neighbourhood also significantly improves the happiness of the residents, as the Kivelä-Luiga family in Puistola knows.

Written by Pi Mäkilä Photos by Roope Permanto

Retrievers Pate and Aino welcome the guests happily when Niina Kivelä-Luiga opens her door on Vilkastuksentie in Puistola. Soon, the dogs move to their own places in the living room and Niina pours a cup of coffee for her neighbour Tiia Salminen.

“Whenever I come to visit Niina, it’s like I am entering Moominvalley. I always feel welcome, and she always has something to offer me with coffee,” Tiia says.

A few years ago, Tiia and Niina met in the shared yard of the building that both of their homes look onto.

“When I moved here, I had no idea that I might find such a good friend right next door. We share joys and sorrows with Tiia and the other residents. We spend public holidays and our children’s birthday parties together, and we organise other kinds of activities,” Niina says.

Neighbours Tiia Salminen ja Niina Kivelä-Luiga having a coffee.
Neighbours Tiia Salminen and Niina Kivelä-Luiga met in the shared yard, and they haven’t stopped talking since.

Niina’s phone rings every day, and sometimes there is a knock on her door and someone asks how she is doing.

“It is wonderful to have friends so close, because I don’t always have the time to go and meet someone,” Niina says.

Happiness lives in Puistola

In the past, Niina dreamed of living in the detached house area of Käpylä, where everyone would know each other and the children could run out or borrow sugar from the neighbour without the parents having to worry about how they are treated.

“We could not, however, find a home of the right size there, so we moved here to my own childhood landscape. Since then, I have noticed that the kind of happiness I was hoping to find in Käpylä lives right here,” she ponders while pouring more coffee into our Moomin mugs.

Neighbour Tiia Salminen.
Knowing your neighbours well improves your quality of life, knows Tiia Salminen. Salminen and Niina Kivelä-Luiga see each other every day – or, at the least, call each other.

According to Niina, it is precisely communality and knowing your neighbours that are important factors in the happiness of a home.

“Relationships with the neighbours and communality are certainly not always experienced in the same way. However, we feel that compared to this, our previous homes were just places to lay our heads in the evenings. This is a real home,” she muses.

A communal neighbourhood provides protection when the world around us becomes distressing.

Communality starts with a "Hello"

The doorbell rings, and soon a happy group of family members bursts in: 5-year-old Eino, 4-year-old Väinö and two-year-old Toivo breeze past in the wake of their father, Niina’s husband Krisu.

Krisu points out that communal spirit ultimately consists of small things.

“Just greeting your neighbours is a good start,” he says.

The play area of the yard.
The play area has become a second living room for the children, where children enjoy themselves from morning to evening.

“Saying hello may seem a little awkward at first if you are not used to it. When I moved here myself, I wondered how I might get to know my neighbours. But at the end of the day, it is nothing more than greeting and then sometimes asking how they are,” Tiia adds.

According to both Tiia and Niina, it has been easy to get acquainted because there are many families with children living in the building. Being in the same life situation, it is easy to catch up when the children will inevitably run to the sandbox and do not feel awkward around each other like adults. At the same time, the children have become like siblings to each other, watching each other.

“And arguing and competing amongst themselves,” Niina laughs.

Help when you need it

Even though the yard is quiet and peaceful right now, Vilkastuksentie is no land of milk and honey.

“Life gets eventful here, too. But if anything negative happens or there is an unknown person loitering in the yard, we keep a united front. When everyone keeps an eye on what happens in the yard and knows each other, children play surprisingly well together,” she says.

According to Niina, happiness is also enhanced by the fact that help is always available when needed. These include child-care assistance, dog-walking or e.g. skis needed for children’s physical education at school.

“Niina is famous for finding almost anything,” Tiia laughs.

Children Eino, Väinö ja Toivo.
Eino (left), Väinö and Toivo like being at home, because there’s always someone to play with next door or in the yard.

“Niina is famous for finding almost anything,” Tiia laughs.

Niina says she can scour recycling groups on social media or the Tori.fi section on free things carefully and selectively and find any missing items.

In return, Niina’s family has received child and dog care assistance from the neighbours.

“Thanks to them, we were able to spend the night at a hotel together. We knew that our children and dogs would in the meantime be in good hands with people they know. Parenting is a very demanding task nowadays, and it is great to be able to discuss your concerns and worries with your neighbours. I have also tried to teach the children that anything can happen in life, but with a certain kind of courage and openness, you can overcome most things,” Niina says.

Happiness is also enhanced by the fact that help is always available when needed.

She hopes that more and more people would find a similar community immediately outside their door. A communal neighbourhood also provides concrete protection when the world situation becomes distressing.

“With the war in Ukraine, we started to examine the matter of our emergency shelter together and determine what we would do and where we would gather in an emergency. Now that the price of food is rising and there are large families living here, the subject has certainly been discussed. It has been important to be able to discuss our concerns,” Niina says.

Safe structures and a good atmosphere

Tiia leaves to take her child to their hobby, and at the same time Niina’s children run out the door. The kids start playing together immediately, and soon the yard is filled with children comparing Pokémon cards and playing tag. The Kivelä-Luiga family pause to think about happiness in the home.

“One important factor is that the home and yard are well planned. Our yard, for example, is fenced in such a way that I do not need to worry that the children run into the road. It is easy to show them where the boundaries of the yard are. I also like it that I am able to enter the home directly from the yard. In our earlier home, we lived in a balcony access block, and we would always struggle with the stairs and the children,” Niina says.

A home garden of neighbour Liisa.
Kivelä-Luiga’s neighbour, Liisa, who lives in a Heka rental apartment, has created a summer paradise in her small yard, with thousands of colourful flowers in bloom. The flowers and the beautiful yard bring joy to the entire neighbourhood.

Happiness is also enhanced by the fact that things work and there are no health hazards in the home.

“Of course, it is also nice to have enough room, but it is more important that there is a good atmosphere at home and nothing falls apart. And if something falls apart, I know it's easy to deal with when I contact Heka,” Niina says.

According to Niina, working on the building committee has also enhanced housing comfort.

“I've lived in Heka housing for a long time, but I didn't even know about the existence of building committees before. It is important that the voice of the residents is heard by the lessor. I think that cooperation has been smooth,” Niina says.

The entire family thinks they'll be happy on Vilkastuksentie for a long time, and looking at the kids running around the yard, you don't have to wonder why.

“We have made the best memories here. I feel like I've grown as a person myself, because I now feel comfortable being myself here,” Niina says.

Home matters

Home and housing have a key impact on our happiness. However, happy people live in all kinds of homes, and the form of housing, for example, has no bearing on the general happiness of Finns.

According to Markku Ojanen, an Emeritus professor of psychology studying happiness, people thrive in quite different homes.

“For some people, happiness in the home consists of brand new furniture or lots of space, whereas others value external aspects, which means that the size of the home does not matter. Someone's happiest living alone, while another is happiest surrounded by a big family,” Ojanen says.

According to Ojanen, the most important thing in terms of happiness is what happens inside the walls of the house. Indeed, sharing responsibility, coping and caring are more important than external factors.

“According to studies, eating together increases communality, leading to happiness in housing. That is why it is worthwhile to cherish shared mealtimes, if not every day, then at least on the weekends.”

The proximity of nature can also increase our happiness.

“The urban environment is also healthier when there is easy access to nature and opportunities to spend time outdoors,” Ojanen says.