In a new study set to be published in the Journal of Psychological Sciences, Harvard Business School researchers set out to measure the effects of ritual. A ritual could be singing happy birthday, or how you brew your coffee, or saying grace before a meal.
The study demonstrated that when a ritual was performed before eating, the food tasted better and delivered more satisfaction than when there was no pre-eating ritual.
In the study, participants cut a chocolate bar in half. First, they opened only one half and enjoyed that half. Then, they were allowed to open the other half and eat it – a very simple ritual.
Another segment of the study created a ritual around eating a carrot. Participants were asked to hit the table 5 times and close their eyes for 5 seconds before eating the carrot.
In both groups, the carrot and chocolate were enjoyed more as compared to control groups who did not take part in a ritual. Additionally, participants in the ritual groups took more time to eat and were actually willing to pay more for the carrot and chocolate after the experience of the ritual.
A few caveats: the rituals have to be repeated steps, not random gestures, and you cannot watch someone else say grace or open a bottle of wine and expect to enjoy the meal or wine better. You have to do it yourself.
The latest research in the field of epigenetics has shown that behaviors and belief systems can actually change our DNA (2,3).
Equally exciting research has shown that the microbes (beneficial bacteria) in the gut have been shown to alter the mood and emotional state of subjects studied. Is it possible that the mindfulness and presence created by ritual also impacts the microbes in the gut to be prepared to enjoy, digest and savor the meal better, as well as make a dent in the evolutionary ladder of our DNA?
As shown in the studies above, ritual can be as simple as saying a quick yet intentional “thanks” before a meal – an acknowledgement that in this meal we are deeply nourishing ourselves, as well as the bugs that are responsible for digesting our food, and helping our mood and emotions!
2. The New York Times. A O’Conner, The Claim: Identical Twins Have Identical DNA. March 11, 2008
3. Dale Theresa. The Epigenetic Connection. Chiropractic Economics Feb 25 2013
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