“The aim of life is appreciation.” ~ G. K. ChestertonThe holiday season and the New Year period can be a pretty stressful time. We’re inclined to think that everything must be perfect, and that includes the gifts we give, the food we prepare, the warmth of our welcome to guests, what we wear to the office party and so on. Often we also take on the responsibility for ensuring that everyone around us, our children, family, and friends, all have a good time – and that can be extremely hard work! So what’s the antidote to festive stress? Well, I think this time of year provides us with some ideal opportunities for savoring: noticing, appreciating, and enhancing the things which are already positive in our lives – and you’d be hard pressed to find anything easier to do. The rules of savoring are simple to follow, and you don’t need any special skills or equipment. In fact anyone, young or old, rich or poor, can learn how to savor and reap the benefits.
What is savoring?
Savoring is about slowing down and paying conscious attention to all your senses (touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell). You stretch out the experience, and concentrate on noticing what it is that you really enjoy, whether it’s sipping a glass of chilled vintage champagne at the New Year’s Eve party, looking forward to seeing your children’s faces as they open their Christmas presents, or recollecting the time you played one of the three wise men in the school nativity play. By learning to savor, you can increase your capacity to notice what is good about your life and thus appreciate it more fully. In doing so, you can maximize your positive emotions and overcome the built-in survival mechanism called the negativity bias.
The flavors of savoring
The great thing about savoring is that it’s such a flexible technique, coming in so many different flavors. For example, think of all the different things that you might luxuriate or bask in, relish, treasure, or cherish. You can choose something tangible (like a warm bubble bath) or something intangible (like a lifelong friendship) to notice, appreciate, and enhance. You can use some or all of your senses when savoring, and you can savor across time dimensions, focusing on things in the past, present, or future. This gives you enormous scope when looking for opportunities to savor in your everyday life.
How to savor in 5 easy steps:
The ‘rules’ of savoring are very straightforward and easy to remember:
- Slow down.
- Pay attention.
- Use all your senses – touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing.
- S-t-r-e-t-c-h out the experience for as long as you can.
- Reflect on your enjoyment.
It’s important to remember that savoring is a process not an outcome – in other words it’s something we do, not something we get.
Over the next 12 days, try some of the following savoring suggestions:
Savoring the future
- Anticipate the excitement and delight on your children’s faces as they open their presents on Christmas morning.
- Look forward to welcoming friends into your home.
- Anticipate the strong community bonds created by attending local carol services or neighborhood parties.
- Look forward to a fresh start in 2012, the chance to set new goals, and the green shoots of Spring.
Savoring the present
- Relish that box of dark chocolate pralines that you received from Auntie Joyce.
- Drink in the aroma of cloves, tangerines, and cinnamon of the mulled wine as it simmers on the stove.
- Luxuriate in a warm bath scented with the fragrance of neroli oil, jasmine, and rose petals.
- Turn off your mobile phone so that you can snuggle up with your kids on the sofa and laugh at the latest Disney movie.
Savoring the past
- Reminisce, with others if you can, about remarkable holidays in the past, such as the time when you built a mammoth snowman on the front lawn, volunteered at a downtown soup kitchen, or glimpsed reindeer in Lapland.
- Ring a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while and talk about the good old days.
- Get out the photo album, and spend 15 minutes remembering all those special occasions.
- Pick a prominent accomplishment from 2011 – an exam passed, a promotion gained, or weight lost – and savor your memories of the achievement.
Remember to take your time, to imagine the small details of the positive experience using all your senses if you can, and to share it with others.
How not to savor!
It’s worth bearing in mind that there are several things which can completely spoil your experience of savoring, or fail to get it off the ground. These include:
- Killjoy thinking about how the experience might be improved
- Analyzing in the moment why an experience is positive
And finally….What will you savor?
There are so many different ways to savor that there will be at least one which suits you. But why not use every spare ten minutes this festive season to try them all, and let us hear about your experiences?
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Quoidbach, J., Berry, E. V., Hansenne, M. & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(5), 368-373. From the abstract:
“The present study examines the relative impact of the main positive emotion regulation strategies on two components of well-being: positive affect (PA) and life satisfaction (LS). A total of 282 participants completed measures of PA, LS, overall happiness, and the savoring and dampening strategies they typically used. Results show that when experiencing positive events, focusing attention on the present moment and engaging in positive rumination promoted PA, whereas telling others promoted LS. In contrast, being distracted diminished PA, while focusing on negative details and engaging in negative rumination reduced LS. … our results further show that … typically using various strategies rather than a few specific ones … was beneficial to overall happiness. Our findings suggest that there are several independent ways to make the best (or the worst) out of our positive emotions, and that the cultivation of multiple savoring strategies might be required to achieve lasting happiness.”