The Powerful Benefits of Making Your Own Products

Making things leads to mindful consumption and supports our well-being.

Posted Jun 11, 2018

“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.”  – Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

This past month, as the vegetable garden we planted in early spring started to produce eggplant, okra, and tomatoes, I noticed something peculiar. When using homegrown vegetables for cooking, I pay extra attention to every step of the cooking process, from cutting, steaming or pan-frying, to saucing, and later, to eating. Each bite seems extra special, imbued with meaning because of the role I have played in their creation.

Gardening by Wang Xi Unsplash licensed under CC BY 2.0
Source: Gardening by Wang Xi Unsplash licensed under CC BY 2.0

My experience gels with some recent research on the “self-creation effect” that I conducted with Johanna Brunneder of EDHEC Business School. We conducted a bunch of studies, some in the field by tracking consumer behavior, and others in the laboratory in a more controlled manner to study how making products influences the consumption experience. We found that when individuals self-create a product—i.e., make their own product— they appreciate it more, are likely to consume it more mindfully, and to experience greater happiness, both in the life domain to which the product belongs, and more generally. In this post, I want to briefly describe two studies from our research to illustrate how the self-creation effect works.

In one study, we collaborated with the owner of a cooking-class company based here in Houston. Chef Ellen teaches newbie cooks to make simple main courses, side dishes, and desserts from scratch. We surveyed participants of her cooking class twice, once in the beginning, and then a second time after the class was over. By this time, students had learned to cook and were preparing meals for themselves. In both surveys, we measured how mindfully they ate their food using measures like “Focusing on the experience of eating is very important to me,” and “I think it is important to serve myself only as much as I can eat.” We also measured how happy they were with their health. We found that after they learned to cook and started preparing meals at home, they ate more mindfully and reported being happier with their health.

In another study, we invited participants to the laboratory. They either made pancakes from scratch or we served them readymade pancakes. (Study participants were randomly assigned to one of the two groups). Those who made the pancakes were given the ingredients and the recipe. They mixed the ingredients, poured the mixture onto the griddle, and cooked and plated the pancakes. Those assigned to the readymade condition were simply served delicious pancakes prepared with the same recipe. Everyone was invited to eat as many pancakes as they wished and take as long as they liked. They could also top the pancakes with whipped cream, chocolate spread, and icing sugar to make them even more delicious. Those who made the pancakes themselves spent an average of 8.75 minutes eating them, whereas those who received readymade pancakes spent 4.61 minutes. Presumably, the longer time meant that the self-creators savored the pancakes and ate them more mindfully. The former group also reported a higher level of mindful eating.

Cuisine Royale by David Blackwell Flickr Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
Source: Cuisine Royale by David Blackwell Flickr Licensed Under CC BY 2.0

In today’s rapidly commercializing world, we are outsourcing more and more of the tasks that people performed themselves just a generation or two ago. For instance, one study found that just 10% of Americans like to cook, while the vast majority prefer to eat out. On the other hand, movements such as Slow Food which encourages the idea of growing, preparing, and consuming food in a self-sufficient and self-sustaining way, and the Maker Movement, which emphasizes learning-through-doing in a social environment, are becoming more popular. Our research supports the principles behind these movements and makes a case against running after convenience and outsourcing when our goal is to receive pleasure from consumption and contribute to our overall happiness.

Making products ourselves and then consuming them is a practical and versatile way to expand our traditional role as passive consumers of readymade items. What’s more, self-creation can and should be driven by our personal interests. When we make things, we become active creators, which leads us to consume these products prudently and consciously, to enjoy the consumption experience to a greater degree, and to add to our happiness.