Ever found yourself gravitating towards a swing set, touching the metal chain, and gingerly settling into the seat. Have you noticed how, with each pump of the legs, your smile has grown wider and wider?
You may have even found yourself reminiscing about your childhood days. A sense of wellbeing, even giddiness, may have washed all over you. It was almost like the memories stored in the body got unlocked by a simple contraption in the playground.
Growing up, I’d often see my parents reminisce about their home country. Some stories they furnished with such detail; I could’ve sworn I’d been there. I can’t say for sure how old I was, but during a winter break in Delhi, as my grandfather started our daily ritual of evening tea, I sat back in my chair, with a keen sense of time slipping by.
At that precise moment, I decided to capture this memory, a mental snapshot: the waves in his silver-white hair, the way he smiled indulgently, asking me about my day, prepping and placing rusk in my plate – half butter, half jam. I inventoried the snacks, their texture, the taste of Parle G, the smell of steaming Bournvita.
I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but the sense of being loved, cared for, and valued is just as keen now as it was some 30-odd years ago.
Without knowing what I was doing, I was savoring the moment.
What Is Savoring
Savoring is a topic commonly studied in positive psychology.
Savoring is the practice of using thoughts and actions to appreciate, intensify, and prolong the positive experiences and emotions. It magnifies one’s happiness and life-satisfaction.
How often have you found yourself or someone around saying, “I just want to be happy.” Movies, lifestyle brands, travel agencies, and other entire industries have flourished on this seemingly simple, yet evasive #lifegoal.
You’d think a global pandemic like this Covid-19 would snap us out of this hyper-consumerism – the art of manufacturing needs, not meeting them. But, between the fleeting nature of emotions and the hedonic treadmill, the happiness goal remains out of reach.
Happiness is not just about having positive experiences; it is also about an ability to notice, enjoy, and prolong them. Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff in Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, define savoring as:
The capacity to attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences in your life.
It may seem you don’t have the things, opportunities, or occasions to savor, but that’s never the case. It’s a skill that you can learn and hone. Savoring is often also referred to as an upregulation of positive emotions.
A fisherman in a remote village may seem happier with his frugal lifestyle than someone with far more exposure and means.
How To Savor What You Have
Here are 6 proven useful tips on how to start savoring – appreciating what you have:
1. Cultivating Gratitude
We can apply gratitude to the past (like fetching positive memories and thanking for the good things we received in our childhood), the present (like taking into account and appreciating what you have right now), and the future (maintaining an attitude of hope and optimism).
Regardless of your current level of gratitude, we can cultivate this quality through maintaining gratitude journals, writing thank-you notes, and expressing appreciation verbally.
We could also do it through gift-giving, making lists of your possessions, abilities, and capabilities, opportunities, social connections, even the level of autonomy you may enjoy in your daily tasks and occupation.
The purpose is not to overwhelm you with the sheer number of lists you could possibly make; it is to allow you to slow down, become more aware of what and who you have, how those things and people impact your life, and how these come together to enrich your life.
Offering gratitude adds to increased self-awareness, which allows us to be more mindful of how our inner world interacts with our outer world – thereby allowing us to savor what we have.
2. Body Scan Meditation
Speaking of our inner world interacting with our outer world, another nifty trick in the savoring toolkit is to become fluent in practicing body-scan. The purpose of a body scan is to tune into your body and reconnect to your physical self.
The next time you’re having a good time, check-in with yourself. Observe the emotions that arouse within, their interplay, as you breathe in, hold, and then slowly exhale.
Notice any sensations you’re feeling, but without judgment. Notice the temperature of the sensation, the movement, and the vibrations. The goal is to train the mind to be more curious and open to sensory experiences.
Now observe the surrounding stimuli – the mind is a powerful thing, and it stores responses that we have towards different stimuli. With time and practice, a body scan meditation will sharpen your ability to focus. It will also help to be fully present in your life – allowing you to not only add depth to your experiences but also replicate and prolong the positive feelings associated with them.
Shamash Alidina is an author, speaker and mindfulness teacher. He wrote the international bestseller Mindfulness For Dummies. Aldina says:
The body scan alternates between a wide and narrow focus of attention; from focusing on your little toe all the way through the entire body. The body scan trains your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.
Here’s a 3.5 minute video guide on body scan meditation by Shamash Alidina that even kids can do:
3. Embracing Imagination And Curiosity
If we turn to the experts in the field of imagination – children, of course – we’ll have a better understanding of this mental exercise. They are gurus of seeking to make sense of the world by using beautiful imagery and fancy descriptions.
They are also chock-full of curiosity. And curiosity is crucial to success and happiness.
So, become curious about yourself, and the trappings of your life. This meaning-making exercise is full of emotion-delight, excitement, wonderment.
Take, for instance, the furniture in your house. Over time, these objects have simultaneously been the backdrop and the witness to your conversations, moments of joy, sadness, and even solitude.
Do this: Approach with curiosity and creativity as you pick any one object from your furniture, and imagine all the stories it would tell.
The thoughts and memories about the object that evoke the most pleasant emotions are now part of the story of this object. You have created a “key” that you can use any time of the day to re-experience and savor the feelings its story evokes.
Make a query to yourself: Have you become a passionless person in your life, taking your experiences as granted instead of feeling their full effect?
Like a cool glass of water on a hot day, petrichor during monsoons, and the comfort of being your life’s narrator. Look around, breathe in, smile, and exhale.
4. Sharing Your Story
Communicating and celebrating our positive experience with others is a savoring strategy that Psychologists refer to as “capitalizing”. Notice the small things as well as the big things – your environment, external factors, as well as your emotions – write them down if you must. By sharing the details of our feel-good moments with those around us, we can bask in the positive warmth of the experience some more.
Research from Shelly Gable, Ph.D., at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that when they asked others about their good news and listened closely as they recounted their stories, let us be a part of their positive experiences.
Not only does this make it possible for you to reconnect with the past and re-experience the uplifting feelings, but it also helps the people asking questions to feel positive emotions as they help you savor those memories.
The research also found that the act of savoring together regularly strengthens people’s relationships.
5. Ritualizing or Creating Rituals
Merriam-Webster defines ritual as, “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed in a sequestered place and according to a set sequence”.
In that sense, any series of actions you perform around a task, if repeated regularly, will be called a ritual.
Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues conducted experiments to examine how ritualistic behaviors might affect our perception and consumption of different foods. They found, when we ritually take part in short and deliberate activities, we seem to savor our experiences more.
Because rituals help us connect with our experiences by drawing us in, this phenomenon is now extended to other activities as well.
And when we are immersed in life, actively engaging the moment we are living, we almost always have a more positive experience. Take into account the wins, big and small.
Be self-aware, imaginative, and playful with your rituals.
- You just finished preparing a meal for the family. You could follow it up by making yourself a cup of tea, sitting in your favorite chair, and listening to Mozart.
- There’s an important discussion with your spouse waiting to happen? Why not first dress up, enjoy a long drive, go for some coffee at a quiet café, and then have that talk?
6. Physically Expressing
Another way to prolong and increase positive emotional experiences is to employ actions and behaviors that affirm them. Since the dawn of time, cultures around the world have been using movements and dance as an outward expression of joy, and even healing.
Savoring this way can be something as simple as the snap of the fingers, clapping your hands, a hop, or a sequence of movements, a dance even, which allows your body to express the emotions that arise within.
In one famous study, the experimenters observed that people holding a pen between their teeth while reading a cartoon rated it as more funny. They concluded this was due to the smile-like expression produced. Physical expressions of positivity – laughing, jumping, and dancing – create extended positive loops of enjoyment.
When we savor, we are having positive feelings and are also aware of them. It’s not only the warmth of being around loved ones, but it’s also the recognition that those connections are very special.
Savouring is a deliberate act of recognition of the value of a moment and retaining the positive emotions that come with it.
Fred Bryant, Ph.D., of Loyola University, who co-authored Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience with Joseph Veroff, Ph.D., says:
Savoring can help us counteract the natural human tendency to focus more of our attention on negative things in our lives than on positive things.
You don’t have to wait for the next big thing to happen to start a practice of savoring. With conscious effort and attention, you can become better at savoring – immersing yourself ever more deeply in the simple things with immense potential for positive experiences.
Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and a leading scholar in the time and happiness research field, author of Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life, says:
Savoring is a form of mindfulness, because it requires you to disconnect from productivity and efficiency and focus on the present. Savoring also requires you to let go of creating the “perfect experience” – people who are maximizers – in favor of creating a good one – people who are satisficers. Maximizers stress over which restaurant to go to, what to order, and whether the experience is living up to expectations. In contrast, satisficers pick a place and a meal without worrying whether they’re exactly the right choices.
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Author Bio: Written by Sunbul Kazmi – a Psychotherapist based in Islamabad. Her counseling style is eclectic yet methodical, with a mix of humanistic, psychodynamic, and holistic approaches. She does individual as well as group therapy and her work includes marriage and family counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, as well as guidance counseling.
Reviewed and edited by Sandip Roy – medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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