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Savoring and Enjoyment: Reflections from a Café in Buenos Aires

By on August 15, 2009 – 9:50 pm  No Comment

Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, is a PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.

Outdoor cafe

Outdoor cafe

One of my favorite things to do in Buenos Aires is pick one of the dozen cafes within two blocks of my apartment and people-watch. I usually order a cortado, a mini café con leche that usually comes with a little cup of sparkling water and pastries of some sort on the side. I love the cuteness of the little cups and plates and how for seven pesos ($1.82 USD) they allow me to sit there for hours.


Sometimes I’ll meet a friend, other times I’ll go by myself with a book or some work that I don’t expect to finish. Every time though, I’ll find myself wondering about the lives of the people in the café; the elderly man sitting at his regular table reading a paper, the group of three teenage girls smoking and chatting animatedly. No matter who they are, I notice they all seem to sit longer than Americans do, using all the real tableware and not throwaway paper take out cups.

Savoring versus Pleasure
Does the custom of sitting longer in a café mean that Argentines are savoring more than Americans do? I don’t know. Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff proposed the term savoring to capture “the active process of enjoyment, the ongoing interplay between person and environment.” Savoring is a personal experience, distinct from pleasure, though they are interrelated.

Un cortado

Un cortado

When I savor my experience of living in Buenos Aires, chatting with the waiter at my local café, ordering my cortado and reflecting on the people that I see, I am aware of and appreciate the positive feelings I’m experiencing. I’m aware of how long I waited to come to Buenos Aires, and appreciate the richness of my experience—the joys, difficulties, expectations both unmet and surpassed. This savoring is distinct from the simple sensory pleasure of the delicious coffee and pastries, because it necessitates an active cognitive involvement between me and my little torta de coco y dulce de leche (my favorite cake of coconut and caramel-like jam).


Cultural Differences in Savoring

Cafe ceiling

Cafe ceiling

As I eat my torta, I don’t know if the elderly man sitting next to me reading his paper is aware that people in the US rarely take the time to do this; I can’t tell if he appreciates the enjoyment of sitting unhurried for over an hour. I wonder if Argentines do savor more, just because they have the custom of spending more time in cafés than Americans do.

Just by observing, I can’t get inside his head and see if he is actively enjoying what may be considered a pleasurable and leisurely experience. But I do know that I savor more in the cafés of Buenos Aires than I do in the US, and that this element of Argentine culture has profoundly affected me. Therein lies one of the joys of traveling: the chance to see and be affected by a different way of doing things.

Without doing more research, I don’t know if the café culture in Buenos Aires facilitates more savoring among Argentines than Americans; but I know from personal experience that it enables more savoring in me, because I’m aware of and can appreciate the difference between my leisurely cortado and an on-the-go paper cup from Starbucks.

Can you savor too much?



After five months of savoring the deliciousness of Argentine tortas during my afternoon coffee time, I got my first cavity. Which got me thinking, can we ever savor too much? Is there a range of savoring that is ideal; a period or amount of savoring that appropriately celebrates and revels in the positive emotions we’re experiencing, without going overboard? Can too much savoring make us complacent and too soft?


I don’t know, but my cavity is filled and I’m back at my café.

Scene of the crime (Buenos Aires outdoor cafe) courtesy of blmurch
un cortado courtesy of po.psi.que
Torta de choco nueces courtesy of elisart
Beautiful Cafe Tortoni Stained Glass Ceiling courtesy of puroticorico

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