June 25, 2024

How Can Savoring Improve Your Quality of Life?

Can we increase our feelings of happiness simply by noticing when we are happy? Research tells us we can through the practice of savoring.

Our lives are a string of delicate, sometimes imperceivable moments. These moments are strung into experiences, which are woven into the fabric of who we are becoming each day and over the course of our lives. The human experience can include extremes as well as daily humdrums—a kind of full-spectrum living.

When we consider that life also passes in delicate, sometimes imperceivable moments, becoming woven, and yet also unwoven, in our lives through the pure nature of time, it is a good practice for us to reflect on how we can slow down in appreciation, acceptance, and awareness to embody and enjoy the life we live. Can we increase our feelings of happiness simply by noticing when we are happy?

Research is teaching us there is a way and a benefit to observing our own happiness through the practice of savoring. Savoring is the act of fully attending to our own positive life experiences, intentionally enhancing and highlighting them to boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing (Bryant & Veroff, 2017). Attuning to positive experiences can lead to greater satisfaction with our lives, improved mental health, more positive relational experiences, and deepen our resilience against adversity.

Savoring is a niche cousin of mindfulness that focuses on positive events. It could almost be described as an out-of-body experience. Imagine yourself sitting with a child who is playing on the floor, or perhaps having a cherished conversation with a loved one, and allowing that moment to suspend in time. Can your level of mindfulness allow you to indulge in that feeling for a moment? Are you able to recognize that you are feeling happy and access gratitude? This recognition that we are feeling something, or meta-awareness, happens spontaneously, but can also be practiced to help make our minds healthier. Intentionally pausing and recognizing the sweet, lovely moments of life is a powerful practice for counteracting stressors and negative emotions.  

As mindfulness stresses a focus on the present moment, we can use the practice of savoring to look upon joyful memories in the past, present moments, as well as the anticipations of the future. Acknowledging happy memories evokes positive emotions that can influence our current and future happiness, and looking forward to something that will bring us happiness can have a similar effect.

We all use coping mechanisms to counter the effects of stress, but savoring engages us with emotions that, beyond getting us through stress, actually elicit positive emotions that can lessen the impact of our stressors when they occur. They can boost us above our typical stress threshold, giving us more space for resilience and thoughtful response, rather than subconscious reaction. 

The ability to savor builds on the ability to practice mindfulness. While mindfulness can help decrease stress, the irony is that we must interrupt our normal stress cycle by becoming more mindful in order to access its ability to decrease stress. Then, as we are able to add in the practice of savoring, we equip our minds and bodies with more subconscious tools that can lessen the impact of those same, inevitable future stressors. Savoring is intentionally noticing the positive—not just noticing.  

The act of savoring, of attuning to our own happiness, becomes a cyclical gift to ourselves. The more we intentionally practice savoring our happy moments, the more this practice becomes a part of us, producing gratitude, assigning meaning, and deepening our bonds with others. 

Practice: Creating a Savoring Moment

Regardless of current circumstances, we all have moments in our lives—past, present, or future—that are worthy of savoring. The simplest kind of savoring practice requires you to pause when you recognize that you are feeling happy. Let that feeling wash over you like a warm bath (or whatever kind of pleasurable physical experience you enjoy). You have to be intentional about recognizing the good moment and taking a few seconds to sit with the good feelings. Even feeling the morning sunshine on your face can provide a sweet moment that is strengthening for the spirit. Additional benefits from this simple practice include Vitamin D production and hormonal balancing. 

Another kind of savoring practice is one you can create with your imagination. Let’s try to create a new moment together that is worthy of our savoring. Specifically, let’s engage our imagination for a moment. As adults, we often become so entangled in the obligations and rhythms of life that our childlike imaginative spirits become completely deprioritized. Just like children, we can still grow and even heal through times of play and imagination.

Is there a place, activity, or person that consistently brings you happiness (even if you haven’t experienced it in a while)? It can be something individual or group-oriented. It could be visiting the beach and making sandcastles, coloring as a child, or spending time with someone or a group who makes you feel safe and loved (or endless other options!). If this is difficult, choose something that you have always wanted to do or a place you may have daydreamed about visiting.

Let’s begin by simply envisioning what you have chosen. Imagine yourself engaging in this activity, or being in the person’s presence, or being in your favorite location. Engage your senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? How does your body feel (giddy with excitement, relaxed in safety, more disengaged from stress)? Imagine how a child experiences emotions like this with readiness and freedom. Can you imagine yourself as that child, with the same ease of heart? 

If it is possible, take five minutes and further imagine a way to make the activity a regular part of your life, whether a couple of times a week or a couple of times a month. Or, how you can go to that location, even if it is only one similar to your dream destination but can also evoke your playful spirit. Bringing a new or latent dream to life is a motivating way to establish something new, and these regular feelings of playfulness will be yours to savor as a reminiscent memory, a present moment, and as anticipation for the same future happiness.

Smith, J.L., Bryant, F.B. (2017). Savoring and Well-Being: Mapping the Cognitive-Emotional Terrain of the Happy Mind. In: Robinson, M., Eid, M. (eds) The Happy Mind: Cognitive Contributions to Well-Being. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-58763-9_8
Thrive Center


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