“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world,” Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit. The book was published in 1937—but that quote is just as true today. Increasingly hungry for simple comforts and uncomplicated happiness, 2017 is shaping up to be the Year of Hygge, the Danish notion of perfect coziness.
Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) is about creating lasting moments that will make you feel good, a kind of relaxed comfort. One way to create this feeling is cooking: Making nourishing food from scratch is hygge. Think, sharing a warm homemade soup, a cool, crisp salad, a freshly baked loaf of bread.
The happiness-healthy food connection is well established. The amount of time we spend cooking has almost halved since 1993, according to consumer analyst Kantar Worldpanel. During the same period, the number of stress-connected illnesses has doubled. Of course, there are many reasons why our stress levels continue to increase, but cooking less doesn’t help. Mental health experts credit cooking as a form of therapy that gives us a double-shot of well-being, as the activity itself calms us, and the result nourishes us with healthier food.
And cooking at home seems to offer specific benefits. “Now, most of us think that eating out is a treat, and that indulgent meals are a special reward,” Stanford health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal wrote in a study related to how food choices influence mood. “But this study found that women were significantly happier and less stressed after eating at home, and after eating healthier meals.”
Happiness is increased when cooks learn they can save significant funds by eating at home: A recent study found that food bills for the group that cooked at home averaged $273 a month per person versus $364 a month for those who ate out most often.
Plus, it’s healthier for you to eat at home: Frequent eating out was associated with a poorer diet and more “empty” calories, compared to home cooking, said study author Adam Drewnowski. That’s because many commercially prepared foods are high in unhealthy fats, salt, and sugar. And restaurant portions are twice or three times what you should eat, making maintaining a healthy weight even more difficult.
So, besides controlling the quality and portion that you eat, you can also share an intimate meal with a friend or loved one. “Nothing beats a home-cooked meal paired with a good conversation,” says Integrative Nutrition health coach Maria Marlowe, author of The Real Food Grocery Guide. “The meal itself becomes more special. Knowing the love, time, and preparation that went into it may help you slow down, appreciate, and savor it a little more, too.”
That bears itself out with couples who shared routine housework such as cooking equitably. According to a recent study, they had the most satisfying sex life. And communication and problem-solving skills are increased when teaming up with your partner to cook up some magic, both edible and otherwise.
There’s an additional happiness connection related to making something physical after working all day, be it on your feet or at a desk. Nothing is quite as effective at shaking off stress like a bit of mindful cooking, where you can put on a playlist or a podcast and let the actions take over. Cooking can slip you into a restorative moment or can pep you and your partner up. And when you’re done, voila! Delicious food is waiting.
This is especially easy when you use meal delivery companies, like Green Chef, which provides high-quality USDA-certified organic ingredients, restaurant-quality recipes like the Italian Meatball Sandwich with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Kale-Carrot Salad, and flexible, affordable delivery plans. It helps serve up happiness, or should we say, hygge, on a plate.