People who eat vegetables are happier and more creative
People who eat large quantities of fruit and vegetables are happier and more creative than people who only eat small amounts of these. Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered this.
Fruit, vegetables and happiness
A diet that contains lots of fruit and vegetables is healthy. It reduces the chance of many physical problems occurring. But do fruit and veg also have a positive psychological effect? That's the questions the New Zealanders are trying to answer.
Positive psychologists use many terms to describe mental health, including the concept 'flourishing'. In a 2005 publication psychologists describe flourishing as "living within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience". [Am Psychol. 2005 Oct; 60(7): 678-686.]
Three elements mentioned are 1) happiness, 2) interest in what life has to offer and 3) creativity.
The researchers got over four hundred young adults, aged between 17 and 25, to write down every day for two weeks what they had eaten that day and how they were feeling. The researchers used standardised questionnaires to determine whether the students were happy and found their life meaningful [eudaemonia], whether they were curious and found life interesting [curiosity] and whether they were able to express themselves in any kind of creative manner [creativity].
They measured the participants' happiness by asking them to give a score to various statements such as "I lead a purposeful and meaningful life", indicating the extent to which they agreed with the statement. Leading a good life or "eudaemonic wellbeing" is therefore not the same as just being happy. It's a deeper feeling.
The researchers also measured the amount of curiosity and creativity the participants experienced in their daily lives in approximately the same way.
On the days that the participants ate more fruit and vegetables they scored significantly higher on the three 'flourishing' dimensions. Sweets and savoury snacks did not boost the scores.
Epidemiological studies such as these often find relationships, but not all relationships are causal ones. So it may be that people who are happy, curious and creative are more intelligent about the food they eat. But it might be the other way round – that a diet containing lots of fruit and veg makes people happier, more curious and more creative. The researchers think that the latter reasoning is correct, but they are not a hundred percent sure, so they would like to see more research on the matter.
The study was funded by the New Zealand government.
Br J Health Psychol. 2015 May;20(2):413-27.
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