Happiness and food are really highly connected, from the pleasure of cooking and eating to the changes in brain chemistry that food can bring about. Many people are made miserable by food but if we switch that around we can use food to make ourselves happier!
Eating is one of the great sensual pleasures in life, tucking into a juicy steak or a delicious bowl of ice cream can be a real joy and something that makes life really seem worthwhile. Food effects the pleasure and reward centres in our brains in the same way drugs do and this can lead to people experiencing the same problems with food as they do with drugs.
Unhappy people very often turn to food to fill the hole in their lives and this can lead to a downward spiral of obesity and dependence. Unhappy people turn to comfort foods like ice cream, pasta or mashed potatoes, all foods which release energy very quickly into the bloodstream. A quick fix of ice cream makes you feel good for a while but very soon you are back to feeling worse than before, so you need more ice cream to correct the balance. There is a classic pattern of peaks and troughs leading to greater amounts of fatty sugary foods to try and balance our moods.
The western world has an obesity problem and this could well be a symptom of unhappiness - everybody is reaching for comfort foods and takeaways to cheer themselves up. How can we fix this? Make everybody happy! How can we make everybody happy? By showing them how to eat well.
Food effects behaviour too, research done with prisoners and schoolchildren (not at the same time!) has shown that eating a diet which doesn't cause peaks and troughs and contains more fresh fruit and vegetables can radically improve behaviour. Jamie Oliver found that when he persuaded schoolkids to eat better, behaviour in the school was much improved. If it works for kids it can work for their parents, they just need to learn to cook.
Cooking too can be a great source of happiness. When I've had a tough day making websites it can be really therapeutic to chop vegetables and turn them into something tasty. I get to enjoy the food twice! Too many people nowadays are eating ready meals and take aways because they feel that they haven't got the time to cook but they are losing something very precious.
One of the reasons for this rise of the ready meals is the mark-up on these products, it's much more profitable to sell ready meals than the raw ingredients and a lot of marketing goes into persuading people to buy them. Imagine if we put as much effort into promoting cooking healthy food from scratch! It's a problem of the market place that it will always try and sell us the most profitable thing rather than the thing which is best for us, but that's one of the reasons that we have governments; to redress the balance.
Cooking is easy too but a lot of people are scared to do it, we've got a generation now who's parents didn't really cook and they have no confidence that it's something they could do. Cooking is something done by professionals somewhere else. Sadly, the ready meals and takeaways are generally really poor quality, made with the cheapest ingredients and designed to store well but rarely as nice as something made at home with a bit of care.
When you cook a ready meal, you are left with a load of plastic packaging - which goes into landfill. When you cook from inredients, you are left with vegetable peelings - which make great compost!
Food is a fundamental part of our lives and a great starting place for us to make everybody happy. It's a shift from a fast empty life to a healthy happy one.