can cooking make you happier?

The other evening my husband inserted himself into my domain, AKA our kitchen, and his eyes widened at the sight of mile-high veggie piles on the island. It was soup and salad night. “Can I help with anything?”, he asked in an exasperated tone. “Ummm….sure.” I said still reeling from his offer. “It’s been a day. I’m gonna chop the shit outta some stuff.” he announced, grabbing the knife before I even had a chance to process what was happening.

Two things occurred to me in this moment: 1 – That he was looking to alleviate some of his workday stress by chopping veggies. And, 2 – I resented him for it. Those were my veggies to chop. I was planning on reaping all the awesome benefits of chopping and slicing not him.

You see, up until this moment, I hadn’t deeply considered how much I depend on cooking every day. I always referred to it as my “therapy” but in a flippant way. I always knew I enjoyed cooking it but not until this moment did I realize I needed it.

Then I considered…Can cooking really make me happier?

3 Ways Cooking Can Make You Happier

I know my reaction to my husband helping seems a little extreme…it surprised me too! You’re probably like…”Wait. What? I would love for my husband to help me out in the kitchen.” And, logically I know I should be grateful for the offering. But…here are three reasons why I’m not:

1. It Keeps You Centered

There’s something so therapeutic and relaxing about cooking to me. I love to cook. Always have. Lately, I’ve been preparing home-cooked meals for my family more nights than not (But this can fluctuate!)…outside of my husband’s travel nights which vary anywhere from 1-3 nights per week. Those nights, I’ll typically whip together something super-easy for the boys like pasta or sandwiches. And for myself, some lean protein and a veggie steamer bag. Done and done. It’s a welcomed break from all the menu planning and prep that I do the other days but I’ll tell you what…if I go more than a couple days…I start to miss it.

It’s kind of like needing a cooking fix. If you exercise regularly then you know what I’m talking about. If I don’t get my heart rate up for more than 2 consecutive days on my spin bike I have a sort of withdrawal. It’s a similar experience with cooking…like when my husband has the occasional 4-5 day travel week.

I know that no matter how productive (or non-productive – haha) my day is, I can look forward to cooking for my family. I like to start cooking at 5 p.m. and dinner’s on the table by 6 p.m. It feels good that I can count on that every day to help keep me centered.

2. It’s Structured, Rythmic and Relaxing

I enjoy the entire process…planning the meals for the week, shopping, prepping, cooking, and even cleaning up. The anticipation of selecting meals that I know my family will enjoy gets me excited. I love announcing the menu each afternoon as my kids and husband gather in the kitchen. Obviously, some meals are going to be more exciting and others and sometimes I’ll get crickets especially when I’m trying something new. They’re a tough crowd…except for my 6-year-old 

3. It Calms Your Mind

My absolute favorite part is the actual prep and creation. I love starting with a clean kitchen and creating a delicious meal without a trace of evidence lingering behind. I’m a clean-as-I-go-cook so you can walk into my kitchen while I’m preparing a three-course meal and you won’t find a dirty dish or utensil on my counter (or in my sink) outside of what I’m using that moment. I know. Sounds crazy but that allows me to enjoy the process. If I have a bunch of dirty stuff laying around I’m not able to “create” freely. I know it’s a little OCD…but I love the idea of not having anything to clean up after the meal but dishes.

Come to think of it…this is probably another reason why I don’t appreciate my husband’s cooking efforts…he’s a crazy-messy cook – sorry babe. Our house rule is that whoever cooks doesn’t clean and I’m usually left with a nightmare of stuff to scrub.

I had the realization that it’s not just something I enjoy but something I’ve become selfish about and I hold it close. Looking forward to the routine and enjoyment cooking gives me every day is something I’ve grown to cherish.
Whether it’s a dish I’ve made a hundred times or a brand new one, the process of gathering all the ingredients, chopping and measuring them gives me great satisfaction. I turn on my echo dot, jam out to my favorite 80s playlist and make the magic happen. The methodical chopping, mixing, cooking, and tasting process relaxes and centers me somethin’ awesome.

3 Times Cooking Didn’t Make Me Happier

1. When I Was A New Mom

When my boys were newborns I didn’t care when or where the food came from…as long as it came. Scratch that…the first 2 years after the boys were born. That’s 4 years of not caring about cooking! I was definitely not one of those IG/Pintrest moms that had it all under control and then some. I did not prepare 6 months of freezer meals when I was 8 months pregnant. Puh-leeze. I worked full time until giving birth to both boys. I was too exhausted to unload the dishwasher at home let alone meal prep thousands of frozen meals…lol. I was in total survival mode after the boys arrived. Especially considering I was at home, post-cesarean, no support group, breastfeeding, with a husband who traveled. More power to those amazing moms out there who did it all. I just wasn’t one of them. I also did not make my own baby food…really?? Props ladies.

2. When I Experienced Postpartum Depression

I lost interest in everything during this time. I know myself well enough now that if I’m not cooking regularly by choice then there’s something off with me. Even during my low times I often watched cooking shows, yearning to get back to my routine.

3. When We Were Selling Our Home

Selling a home is super stressful. People often would want to come and view our home in the evenings and cooking was out of the question. It would make the house fragrant (not always ideal), create more work with cleaning up for lasts minute showings. It just wasn’t worth it.

Sooo…Can Cooking Really Make You Happier?

Apparently so. It’s not all in my head. We all know that there’s a strong link between eating and feelings of happiness (hello chocolate and carbs!) but what about the actual process of cooking the food?  
In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, they found that people who frequently engage in small, creative projects like cooking and baking report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives. In fact, they were more enthusiastic about the next day than those who didn’t.

In recent years, psychologists have started spending more time exploring cooking and baking as a therapeutic tool to help people dealing with things like depression and anxiety. Cooking/baking can influence mood by providing small tasks to focus on in a manner similar to meditation.

Ummm…excuse me? Did you catch that causal effect? MEDITATION. The end-all-be-all transformative life habit has been likened to cooking. That’s crazy-huge! I always knew cooking was benefiting me on some level but didn’t realize how much until researching it. Seeing that there’s actual science to back it up provides clarity on my routine.
Sooo…my feelings of resentment towards my husband trying to take over in the kitchen were legit. Ha!

Cooking Might Be Great For You If…

1. You Liked It Once Or Have Never Given It A Fair Chance

Cooking isn’t for everyone, I know. Some people just don’t enjoy it. And in this day and age, it’s super easy to grab take-out/delivery or a pre-prepared meal from the grocery. And, that’s okay. I know, I’ve gone through phases where just hearing the word cooking sounded exhausting. But if you’ve ever enjoyed it in the past or are open to trying…give it a whirl. Start small. Maybe a breakfast frittata or 5-ingredient crock-pot dinner? The benefits are worth giving it a shot.

2. You Enjoy Structure And Having A Sense Of Control

I’ve always known that I needed structure to thrive in my life. And sometimes it’s difficult to establish and keep to routines when I don’t have a traditional 9-5. I’m at home and my schedule can vary depending on what’s going on with the kids…is it summer? sports? a sick child? I schedule my days by blocking my time for writing/blogging, exercise, errands, etc. but it doesn’t always pan out like I intend. I don’t cook every night but I strive for more nights than not. It anchors my day in the best way. 

3. You Enjoy A Challenge And Sense of Accomplishment

Sometimes cooking for four presents some challenges. My husband and I try to limit our carbs and sugar. And, our teenager is a vegetarian so I’ve been making some adjustments to our favorite dishes. Sometimes I’ll make a separate dish for him but mostly we’re attempting to add more meatless dishes to our menu. A win-win for everyone. Overall, for me, the challenges add a little excitement to my planning and cooking process. Call me crazy but it keeps me on my cooking game and I love satisfying all my peeps.

4. You’ve Suffered From Depression/Anxiety In The Past or Present

If you’ve ever suffered from depression/anxiety you know how important routine is for maintaining your well-being. Cooking is something that can easily be incorporated into your week and yields impressive results. There’s no need to make everything from scratch or tackle iron chef status. Pick something that sounds yummy and looks easy. If it’s got more than 10 ingredients don’t bother unless you’re comfortable in the kitchen.

That was the most difficult thing for me in the beginning. I’d find an amazing recipe and then get overwhelmed with all the ingredients and steps required. And with Pintrest and other great cooking Apps like Allrecipes at your fingertips, you can find recipes specific to your needs. I especially love Allrecipes because you can filter by popularity, rating, and relevance. You create your own favorites collections to reference back to and read the reviews to get insightful feedback on how to adjust the recipe to suit. Love this App!

This Spinach Quiche from Once Upon A Chef is one of my favorite recipes of all time. It’s my go-to for brunch or easy entertaining. It’s super easy, restaurant-worthy, and only has 10 ingredients. I usually add sliced mushrooms to mine and serve with a yummy tomato salad like this one but any salad will do.

Don’t Like Cooking? Do This Instead…

Cooking not your thing? Baking can provide all the same therapeutic benefits as cooking! Something I’ve been dipping my toe into lately. I have a couple of go-to’s like my apple pie and baked brie (I don’t think that quite qualifies – haha). And, I’ve ventured into tarts and cakes lately too. But, it’s always been a little intimidating – the process is just so precise and you have to make sure it looks pretty too.

My mom is an absolute master at baking. She just somehow has this innate ability to make everything look stunning. I guess it’s the artist in her. Hopefully, it’s in my DNA and I’m just in need of some practice. 

A Final Note

Cooking is a wonderful pastime that brings together the entire family if not just for an hour. If you’ve never given it a fair chance, I highly recommend it! The benefits reach far and wide in my opinion.

Was there a time when cooking made YOU happy…or not?! Drop me a comment below and please do share!

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