In his research on savoring, Fred Bryant calls out Freud and Skinner’s assumptions that people naturally experience pleasure in response to positive events. To some of us it might seem ridiculous to need to say so. We’d wonder, how is it possible to not enjoy the good stuff? I mean we’re not talking making lemonade out of lemons, we’re talking about feeling psyched about a well-deserved promotion.
Well, I must admit, it’s a relief to know that the equation isn’t that balanced; that we aren’t all predisposed to know how to ‘be present’ and savor the good things in life. For some of us, it takes work and the recognition that if we aren’t stopping to savor we are missing out on the actual reality of our lives. In some cases it may take an understanding of what those ‘good things’ are for each of us. Perhaps that’s one of the places where the ‘meaning’ branch of Seligman’s positive subjective experience intersects with the ‘pleasure’ branch, where goal setting and circle of life exercises are helpful for us to know what makes us feel pleasure and what we feel warrants savoring. In other cases, it’s the simple pleasures that some of us have the most trouble appreciating.Included in Peterson and Seligman’s Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues (aka Manual of the Sanities), is included the strength of “Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence” indicating that being able to recognize, be present and appreciate positive experiences is something that some of us are just simply better at doing.
Savoring can be Learned
As we are always careful to point out, this certainly does not preclude the fact that those of us who don’t naturally know how to savor, can’t learn to. In fact, it is just the opposite. In his book Savoring Fred Bryant suggests ways to learn to savor or to mindfully engage in thoughts or behaviors that heighten the effect of positive events on positive feelings.
Bryant’s work also supports 3 temporal forms of savoring:
- In the Moment
Thus, we can savor a positive event before it happens by getting excited in preparation for it, we can savor the positive event as it occurs, and we can savor a positive event by remembering it.
What are the Benefits of Savoring?
But besides making us feel good, for the pragmatists out there to whom ‘feeling good’ isn’t enough, you may be wondering, what’s the point of savoring, what does it do for us? Nobel prize winner for his work on hedonic psychology, Daniel Kahneman points out that “humans plan for their future and use their past as a guide to their future…(making) remembered or anticipated and integrated hedonic value a convenient shorthand for decision making online.” Thus our mental representation of remembered and anticipated pleasure are functional in our lives. It helps us make good decisions because it reminds us of what served us well in the past.
Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions puts the final button on this jacket, proving that positive emotions create an upward spiral in our experiences, emotions, relationships, mental capacities, and so on. So by reconnecting with those positive emotions that we felt in the past, we can enhance our current mood and perceptions of current situations thereby creating even more positive emotions and experiences.
Savoring and Karma
Yogic philosophy, which I’ve begun to study more in depth recently, places greatest emphasis on non-attachment, which would suggest that identifying with our past and/or our future only hinders us, as it takes us away from experiencing the present reality. This places greater emphasis on the ‘in the moment’ savoring. When I asked my yogiraj why exactly ‘being present’ was so important he reminded me that things happen to and for us when we live in the moment, we have no need to craft and orchestrate them because by placing our attention on them we are allowing our intuition to take hold. He’d likely call what Kahneman describes our karma, our experiences of past and our future that affect our present.
So, back to where we started, while we all have positive experiences in our lives, many of us may need guidance on how to recognize and appreciate the positive and to activate a savoring quality in our lives. Just because good things happen doesn’t mean we know what to do with them! There is a William Blake quotation that I’ve shared with those people in my life who just can’t seem to find the light switch in the dark room.
“There is a moment in every day that the devil cannot find”
I’d like to add on to that, “Savor it!” A good beginning…..
Look for me on the 29th of each month. Love to hear your comments.
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Savoring the view courtesy of Alexandra Gavis