How Food Choices Affect Happiness

“By embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find true happiness.”

– Malcolm Gladwell

The Case of the Disastrous Egg Sandwich

Whilst babysitting a friend’s 41 month old, I realized the little boy was made to eat an egg sandwich almost every single day for lunch for the past year, ever since he expressed enjoying an egg sandwich one day during lunch.

“Doesn’t he ever get tired of the sandwiches?” I asked my friend Emma when she came back home.

“Oh, he loves egg sandwiches,” she said to her son.

Two minutes later, pandemonium erupted when, despite promises of a Land before Time, Mickey’s playhouse and all notions of Dora, Ben refused to eat his sandwich.

Finally, I gave him some of my yoghurt, which I had mixed with fruit salad.

“I’ll lock you in the shed,” Emma shouted.

“Don’t give anything to him. He only gets a treat of fruit if he eats his food. This happens every day. I have to go through this every day.”

Sensing that a nervous breakdown was about to occur in front of me, I withdrew from offering any more yoghurt. Attempting to be the good friend and utterly shocked by the uncharacteristic display of absolute rage from my normally timid friend, I also refrained from speaking up at the occasion.

Yet, as weeks passed, I was absolutely unsettled, and began to wonder, what is it about constants that make us feel that we cannot deviate from them, that which roots each of us into habitual rituals devoid of elements of surprise?tomatoes

It is no surprise, after all, that picking out a varied diet can greatly improve our moods. A mix of chocolate, bananas, sunflower seeds, and nuts can provide the boost to an afternoon lull in energy, and contain all the elements necessary to increase feelings of content and happiness.

Tomatoes, for example, were a fruit/vegetable that I never truly enjoyed growing up, but have come to love as I have gotten older, particularly due to my father’s diligent tomato gardening ventures.

Now, I particularly appreciate that tomatoes contain lycopene, a chemical found to be an anti-inflammatory stress reliever, and concentrated on the skin of the tomatoes, especially of the cherry kind. And surprisingly, tomatoes provide the clues to how we are cued as humans to naturally proclaim diversity as our definitions of taste.

How Embracing Diverse Options Makes You Happier

In a recent TED talk, Malcolm Gladwell, the prolific motivation speaker best known for Outliers and David and Goliath, speaks at length about how conventional thoughts of sticking with what seems to work, misleads our understanding of happiness.

Drawing on an analogy of a situation where companies were finding a low consumer satisfaction amongst similar products, Gladwell brings to light that without paying homage to individual taste preferences, and by asking people what they want, we cannot truly be happy. Furthermore, by connecting the dots and assuming that variety will instigate taste preferences, we encourage both vitality and happiness.

Case in point, from the TED talk: Campbell soup made Prego, which was struggling in consumer satisfaction when competing with Ragu in the 1970s, their biggest competitor in spaghetti sauce. After hiring Howard Moskowitz to analyze the problem, Prego came up with 45 different variations of tomato sauce for targeted focus groups to test, providing them with variations of chunky, garlic entrenched, diluted, soupy, and thick variants of tomato sauce.

Analyzing the resulting data sets, Moskowitz found that Americans fall in three different groups: some prefer their sauces plain, others spicy, and the last third extra chunky. This distinction was crucial, as this last third of the population who enjoyed choices did not even know they enjoyed the variant of tomato sauce, until it was put in front of them. In the next few years, Prego made US $ 600 million with servicing this new market, and only through believing that spaghetti sauce did not need to emulate its Italian origins by being smooth and diluted, but could service the taste of the consumer, embracing diversity as guidance.

Some of us are told that we should not speak with strangers. Others are brought up eating sushi alongside kimchi and yellow curry, with empanadas for breakfasts and switching to pancakes for dinners.

If we translate xenophobia to food, isn’t sticking to the same few things you know being the ultimate food nazi? Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that we lose what Gladwell tells us:

“By embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find true happiness.”

Cultivating Taste Through Trial, and Through Trial Only

I will admit that I’m the only one in my family who will willingly swallow sushi without as much as the bat of an eye, but at the same time, smoked herring found on the streets of Amsterdam still send shivers of absolute disgust down my spine.

In the same way, I’ve also noticed that the best conversations i can consistently say I’ve had are with strangers, deplete from the usual pressure of analyzing what is put in front of me as a constant. Until 14, rice and lentils made my day, but then I found spaghetti and hummus in boarding school

When you try to pacify your expectations from the initial thrill of encountering something different, you diffuse the greatness of this new thing by trying to compartmentalize your experience and condition your future expectations to remain the same.

A Twix bar tastes heavenly after you haven’t had Twix in ages. Try eating five Twix bars in a row and suddenly, you’re not enjoying yourself anymore, because the action is rote, the novelty is moot.

By fixating on the conventional, you asphyxiate your initial connection with anything that contradicts it, such as what you are normally used to. Hence you turn noxious the perfume of an initially mesmerizing apple tart, and you endure the punishment of the mundane.

It’s time we started to be inspired by deviation. We may learn something new as we titillate across the spectrum of daily emotions and feelings, especially when opting to sustain and maintain the facade of balanced relationships.

After all, something new never fails to spice up appreciation for what we know we can have readily, on a daily basis, and neither does it detract from the comfort of knowing that we can always go back to what we used to love.

The next time I see Emma, I have a feeling I’ll be bringing a book of egg recipes, for the record.

How will you know you like something if you’ve never tried it?

Baby steps. Take baby steps.

We are only limited by the options we give ourselves.

Play with your choices. You may be pleasantly surprised.

If you liked this piece, you may also enjoy 14 strategies of successful people, which discusses other ideas expounded on by Malcolm Gladwell.


3 thoughts on “How Food Choices Affect Happiness

  1. In effect you’re backing up the adage “a little of what you fancy does you good” – except that your emphasis I guess here is on the words ‘a little’. I entirely agree. Another phrase comes to mind – “variety is the spice of life”. True for life, true for food 🙂

  2. A great summary of some of the very thoughts going through my mind when I was articulating my thoughts for the piece. Thanks so much for elucidating so succinctly! 🙂

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