Savoring 102

On the road and savoring the minutes and miles with family and friends. Savoring is a simple way to ratchet-up your happiness levels.

In Friday’s post, I began sharing the thoughts of Dr. Fred B. Bryant from his May 2006 online article “The Art of Savoring” in Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living/Alternative Medicine/InnoVision Health Media. Bryant is a social scientist and an expert in the study of savoring.  In the article he lists 10 tips for savoring.  I shared the first 5 on Friday, here are the last 5.

Remember, you get to pick and choose which of the 10 you try and then you get to decide which ones work for you. Mix them-up, try them out, alter and adapt.  I believe even one moment of savoring is better than none – so have fun with it.

You can find lots more information about savoring in Dr. Bryant’s book: “Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience”.

5. Shout it from the rooftops.

Maybe you’re sorting through your mail, and you unexpectedly receive a large refund check from the IRS. Don’t just smile inwardly and tuck it in your wallet—laugh out loud, jump up and down, and shout for joy. Outwardly expressing positive feelings can intensify them by providing our minds with physical evidence that we are, in fact, joyful. In several experiments, people instructed to express their feelings in observable ways while watching a humorous video reported more enjoyment than people instructed not to express their feelings. In other words, “putting on a happy face” may actually help you feel more positive.

6. Compare the outcome to something worse.
If the outdoor dinner party you’ve been planning for weeks is blessed with perfect weather, remind yourself of how terrible the weather could have been and how it would have ruined your party. By comparing the good experience with a less pleasant one, you’ll have a frame of reference by which to judge the actual experience’s merits—and it will make that experience seem even better. Case in point, in several studies participants receiving grades or achievement scores were instructed to think about either how their scores could have been worse or how they could have been better. Imagining a worse outcome increased appreciation of success, while imagining a better one lowered appreciation.

7. Get absorbed in the moment.
While hiking through the woods, you come across a spectacular rainbow—try not to think, but rather just get totally immersed or engrossed in the view. Savoring through absorption involves deliberately avoiding mental reflection in favor of simply experiencing the ongoing positive event as it is unfolding. In line with a Buddhist viewpoint, being in the moment does not involve judging what you’re experiencing, but rather being mindfully aware of the feelings you’re experiencing at the moment. As Buddhist teacher Nyanaponika Thera described it, mindfulness is “the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us at the successive moments of perception.”

Research on the psychology of optimal experience has found that people often report enjoying themselves most after “flow” experiences—those moments when they became totally absorbed in what they were doing and lost all sense of time and place. People most often experience flow when their skills perfectly match the demands of a particular activity.

8. Count your blessings and give thanks.
Whether you are waving a “thank you” to the car that let you pass into its lane, telling a buddy how lucky you are to have him as a friend, or saying grace over a meal, you can find more joy by reminding yourself of your good fortune and expressing gratitude for it. Don’t forget that this strategy has two parts. Counting blessings, the first part, involves pinpointing what you’re grateful for and why you appreciate it. In a weeklong experiment, students who counted blessings at the end of each day reported higher posttest levels of happiness than students who counted hassles or neutral events. However, just because you acknowledge a blessing to yourself doesn’t mean you necessarily express gratitude for it outwardly to someone else. That’s where the second step comes in. Some people express gratitude in prayers; others in speech, poetry, song, or artwork; still others never express the gratitude they feel. But research indicates that saying “thank you” can actually increase our joy by making us more consciously aware of our positive feelings. With effort over time, you can cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” that becomes a habit, giving you a grateful disposition. One trick: Each night in bed, try thinking of a new blessing for which you’ve never given thanks before.

9. Remind yourself of how quickly time flies.
It’s your last day of vacation—the last day before you return to everyday life—and you really want to enjoy it. Think about how fleeting the time is, how much you wish it could last forever, and tell yourself to savor it now. Realizing how short-lived time is and wishing it could last forever can motivate you to seize the moment while it’s unfolding. If you think this strategy contradicts tip No. 7 (get absorbed in the moment), you’re right. You can’t think about the “fleeting nature of time” while simultaneously trying simply to absorb the experience without thinking about it at all. In other words, some ways of savoring are incompatible with each other. But each strategy offers a different tool—meant for different situations and different personality types—for finding more joy.

Time makes savoring a rich and complex process. Although savoring requires that you mindfully appreciate a positive experience in the immediate present, savoring can also connect you to the past or future. You can savor past good times by reminiscing and rekindling the joy from these memories in the present. And you can savor future good times before they occur by anticipating and imagining the joy you’ll feel when these positive outcomes actually happen. Don’t underestimate the power of those imaginings. In one recent experiment, people who used mental imagery to recall happy memories 20 minutes twice a day for a week reported greater posttest happiness than people who used memorabilia or souvenirs to reminisce or who thought about future concerns.

Another twist to the temporal aspect of savoring: You can enhance your enjoyment of the moment while it’s unfolding by looking forward or backward in time. With looking forward, you can savor the moment by imagining a time in the future when you will look back on the experience with fond memories (a process known as “anticipated recall”). For example, while in the middle of your first triathlon, you can look ahead to the end of the race and how proud you’ll feel thinking back on your accomplishment. The thought of that future pleasure will enhance the present moment. On the flipside, you can savor the moment by looking back on an earlier time when you had eagerly awaited its happening (a process known as “recalled anticipation”). For instance, while lying on a beach in Bermuda, you can reminiscence about the excitement and anticipation in the weeks preceding the trip. As Alexander Pope put it in 1730: “For he lives twice who can at once employ, the present well, and ev’n the past enjoy.”

10. Avoid killjoy thinking.
You’ve had a stressful day at work, and you decide to treat yourself to a relaxing beverage at a local coffee shop. Avoid the temptation to think about other places you should be and other continued from page 67
things you should be doing. When it comes to feeling joy in life, it’s just as important to avoid thinking negatively as it is to think positively. Research shows that the more killjoy thoughts people have in response to a personal achievement, the less they tend to enjoy it and the sooner their enjoyment fades. Across many studies, depression and low self-esteem make people more likely to engage in killjoy thinking. If you suspect an underlying condition like depression, seek treatment or counseling.

Finding joy means making time for it. But all too often savoring gets lost in the stress of everyday living. And thus beautiful views pass unnoticed, scrumptious desserts are swallowed untasted, and relationships with friends and family go underappreciated. Although we may have no shortage of positive experiences, attending to them and appreciating and enhancing them requires savoring. With this skill, we can enjoy life more fully, find greater happiness, and experience greater physical health to boot. Perhaps novelist Robert Louis Stevenson said it best in 1905, when he asserted, “There is no duty we so underrate as the duty of being happy.”

My personal weekend savoring: Time with Peace Corps pals in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, where we met before heading overseas; row houses of many colors; bricks walls you want to touch; Turkish foods that remind us of Macedonia; wide-open windows in a city that doesn’t seem to sleep and the nighttime conversations waking-up can lead to; lots of laughter, shared memories and new directions in life.

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