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Research suggests taking up baking can help you feel better

Creative hobbies like baking, cooking, and gardening may be just what the doctor ordered.

Research suggests taking up baking can help you feel better
[Photo: Kari Shea/Unsplash]

If you’ve been trying to get a little more mindfulness in your life, whipping up a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies might be exactly what you need.

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Several studies suggest that creative activities like baking can deliver mindfulness benefits. For example:

  • A 2016 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that practicing simple creative acts on a regular basis can lead to more positive psychological functioning.
  • An April 2018 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that young adults who engaged in “Maker activities,” such as cooking, baking, and gardening, was linked to positive subjective well-being. Participants said the most important reasons for engaging in such activities were mood repair, socializing, and staying present-focused.
  • Another study in the Journal of Palliative Medicine found that “culinary therapy” can even be an effective tool in grief management.

“Many people find joy and calmness in baking, because it is very tactile and typically commands your full attention, primarily when you use repetitive motions with your hands,” says corporate mentor and coach Kimberly Lou, author of Becoming Who You’re Meant to Be. “Because of this, it can have a therapeutic effect that calms the central nervous system and connects to the part of the brain that accesses creativity and imagination,” she says. In addition, Lou says the texture, smell, and taste of the ingredients stimulate the senses, tapping into the pleasure senses of the brain.

Celebrity chef and cake designer Marina Sousa says she experiences this feeling in her work but was reluctant to identify it as such at first. “I think it’s very trendy to go with terms like ‘meditation,’ and ‘going within’ . . . That was always something that I kind of shied away from, because I was afraid of doing it wrong and not being perfect at it,” she says.

But, what she realized through conversations with others was that mindfulness was simply slowing down and paying attention to what’s in front of you, “which ultimately creates the space for new thoughts, and feelings, and creativity to emerge,” she says. She realized that she often did that during her work as a pastry chef and even when she baked nonprofessionally when she was younger.

Giving away the fruits—or, perhaps, muffins—of your labor can also be beneficial, Sousa says. The act of creating something and giving it as a gift or providing it as sustenance for others feels good. “It made me incredibly popular in high school with the basketball team,” she says. “When you’re doing something nice for other people, the effects just kind of compound and get bigger,” she says.

Sousa is featured in the new Better Your Bake campaign created by Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, which teaches home baking enthusiasts how to advance their skills and benefit from the meditative practice of baking. But there are plenty of easy ways to get started with baking.

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For people who find themselves overwhelmed in a kitchen, baking is a good place to start. Unlike some other forms of cooking, measuring and order are important to get the right results, Sousa says. The ratio of flour, sugar, salt, and other ingredients is critical, so you need to take the time to measure and focus, she says. “My whole method in general is just try until you get it right. Practice makes perfect,” Sousa says. “And the ripple effect of it is that you get to make people happy.”

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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