Baking (And Cooking) Makes Everything Better

CC BY 2.0. Jamie Pearson

Mixing ingredients is therapy for many people.

What is it that’s so magical about cooking and baking? Why do we turn to our pantries and mixing bowls when we’re feeling down? How is it that pulling a pan of freshly baked cookies out of the oven can turn one’s mood from sad to sunny? There’s something about the simple act of combining ingredients and transforming them into delicious food that makes people happy. It combats depression and creates a sense of comfort and wellbeing.

There’s science behind this, too. The Journal of Positive Psychology published a study last fall that looked at how spending time each day on creative goals is associated with “higher activated positive affect.” The study included 658 young people over two weeks, and its findings support the “emerging emphasis on everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.”

Culinary therapy is used by some addiction treatment centers to relieve stress, improve social skills and memory, enhance participants’ ability to plan and organize, relieve boredom, and boost self-esteem, not to mention teach healthy eating patterns. It can treat people with autism, depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities.

There’s even a bakery in east London called The Depressed Cake Shop that makes unusual and imaginative baked goods, i.e. cakes that are grey on the outside and colorful inside, designed to get people talking about mental illness. The bakery was founded by a woman named Melanie Denyer, who has struggled with mental health problems for 15 years. She told the BBC:

"Getting treatment has not always been easy. Cooking and baking have, on occasion, very literally saved my life, giving me an outlet for emotions I couldn't handle. It has provided me with an alternative to self-harm."
depressed cake shop

© The Depressed Cake Shop

If cooking and baking is effective enough to help people suffering from such serious conditions, imagine what it can do for individuals just having a down day. Every home baker or cook has their own reason for heading to the kitchen:

It’s a form of meditation. The repetitive motion of chopping ingredients can be a time to let your thoughts wander, or to empty your mind.

It’s creative and artistic. Decorating cupcakes, cookies, and cakes takes skill and focus.

It’s about control. You determine what goes in, what stays out, what gets tweaked. Then you can bask in a sense of accomplishment at having made something with your own hands.

It’s highly symbolic. In our culture, baking is associated with nurture and goodness. There’s a sense of those qualities rubbing off on us while baking tasty treats ourselves.

Feeding others is deeply gratifying. Nothing beats passing out delicious homemade food to appreciative family and friends.

Or maybe you just love good food -- and yours is the best around!

Why do you cook or bake?