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Does the word “diet” make you a little sad? You’re not alone! Typically the idea of eating with any kind of restrictions can be a bit of a downer. Even without restrictions, more often than not, eating is more of a necessity than an indulgence.
One of the secrets to a happier life is to extract as much happiness from ordinary circumstances as possible. As Samuel Johnson observed, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”
One very ordinary part of our lives is food. Are there ways to get more satisfaction from food, without any extra effort? It turns out that there is.
In Brian Wansink’s fascinating book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think — which I highly recommend — he outlines studies that show that when food is given highly descriptive, tasty-sounding names, people enjoy the food more, and are more satisfied with the restaurant in which they eat.
Nothing about the food is different, but people’s experiences are different, because their imaginations have been fired. To quote Samuel Johnson again, “Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.” (Remember, he was writing in the 1700s.)
Wansink found that the descriptive themes that restaurants use to ignite our imaginations fall into four basic themes:
1. Geographic: Kansas City BBQ, Southwest Salad, New York Pizza.
2. Nostalgic: Legendary Chocolate Pie, Grandma’s Fried Chicken, Classic Old-World Manicotti.
3. Sensory: Velvety Vanilla Mousse, Hearty Sizzling Steak, Buttery Plump Pasta.
4. Brands: Jack Daniels Glazed Ribs, Butterfingers Blizzard.
I can’t remember if this example comes from here or elsewhere, but I read a funny account of a classroom of children that ate an unusual amount of broccoli. It turned out that one child’s family described broccoli as “dinosaur trees,” and so eating broccoli was part of playing dinosaurs — which the children loved to do.
Imagination! We can use it to transform our everyday experiences, to make them richer and more satisfying.
Have you ever found a way imaginatively to reinvent an experience, to make it happier?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. On her weekly podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. She writes about happiness and habit-formation at gretchenrubin.com. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenrubin, or on Facebook, at facebook.com/GretchenRubin.
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