Just Looking at Fast-Food Icons Can Ruin Your Day

But we have the cure to make you feel happy again.

June 6, 2014
calm woman by water

Next time you're looking to enjoy some leisure time, steer clear of fast food. Not only because of the health risks, but also because exposure to fast food and fast-food icons may impede your ability to enjoy the moment, according to research from the University of Toronto.

Fast food is the ultimate symbol of impatience, says Danny Penman, PhD, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. "Everything about fast food is designed to make you impatient. Fast-food chains spend a fortune researching how to get customers through the door—and out again as fast as possible," he says.

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The researchers found a connection between this rushed feeling caused by fast food and an inability to slow down and enjoy life. The study revealed that people who live in neighborhoods that are highly concentrated with fast-food restaurants were less likely to cherish life's small pleasures.

In fact, merely exposing people to images of food in McDonald's packaging reduced people's ability to savor a beautiful nature photo or piece of music. "Being exposed to symbols of the culture of impatience can impair people's ability to derive happiness from encounters with pleasurable things in life because they become too impatient to 'smell the roses,'" says study author, Sanford DeVoe, PhD.

More From Rodale News: Why You Still Shouldn't Visit Fast Food Joints

Penman explains that constant impatience and frustration could have some long-term consequences for your happiness. "Impatience and frustration destroys happiness," says Penman. "It forces you to live inside your head rather than in the real world. Such rumination is one of the most powerful driving forces behind anxiety, stress, and depression."

But there is a solution—mindfulness. "Mindfulness brings you back into the real world and helps you reconnect with the deepest and wisest parts of your mind,” says Penman. If you find yourself feeling rushed, edgy, or generally frustrated, Penman says that the best cure is to accept it in a mindful way. "Fighting with it, or arguing against it, simply deepens the frustration," he explains.

Try Penman's Intensely Frustrating Line Meditation the next time you find yourself behind 20 people at the bank teller or supermarket.

Ask yourself these three questions:

•   What is going through my mind?
•   What sensations are there in my body?
•   What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

"You can acknowledge that it is not pleasant; but it's OK not to like it," says Penman. "You may still feel pulses of frustration and impatience while you are in line, but these feelings will be less likely to spiral out of control if you can allow the frustration to be here without trying to make it go away."

Check out more of Penman's breathing techniques to help boost your mood.