Certainly, the notion that a big house doesn’t guarantee happiness is nothing new. Look no further than The Great Gatsby. The book upon which the new movie was based was published in 1925, and protagonist Jay Gatsby bought a fabulous mansion to attract the object of his dreams from across the bay. We see how that worked out (Spoiler alert: It didn’t).
Fast forward to today, and many of us are chasing our own green light – happiness – by building larger and larger houses. In about 60 years, the size of the average house in the U.S. has more than doubled. Meanwhile, we’re working longer hours to pay for houses that cost 18 times as much as they did in the early 1950s. The new bigger houses have more bedrooms for fewer children.
But maybe more room – and three times as many televisions – has fragmented those even smaller families. Remember when we all used to gather around the TV in the den to watch a show. Now, with three televisions in the house on average, and digital recorders that record five shows at a time, we watch different shows in different rooms at different times. No wonder we spend much less time together as a family.
We have larger kitchens but cook less, eating out nearly five times a week. We have home gyms, and spend billions to equip them, but are in worse shape than ever. We eat more and sleep less, so much so that as many as 80 million people in the U.S. have sleep disorders.
None of this is meant to suggest that everything was great in the early 1950s. It certainly wasn’t if you weren’t white or were a woman who wanted a career or contracted polio. Or if you wanted to avoid asbestos or lead paint.
But there is something to be said for a closer family dynamic – and if nothing else, smaller houses made families closer by necessity. Maybe we can recreate this closeness with more family vacations, making greater efforts to be together, to work less and sleep more and to get healthy together instead of having individual agendas.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said this: “A great man is always willing to be little.” A great house can be little, too. Particularly if it’s home to a great family.