Savouring What Is Good: Past, Present and Future
Our lives seem to be busier than ever. An ever-tilting focus on productivity and multitasking seem often to result in a feeling that our lives are only half-lived. Down time is rarely filled with boredom and daydreaming anymore. We have become obsessed with digital distractions and personal improvement. We are yearning, seeking, and ever striving for “more”.
Many clients I work with are caught in this grind, and unable to stop and luxuriate in their experiences or bask in their accomplishments. They rarely find time to be present in the moment, noticing the awe of architecture or nature around them, to reflect and give thanks for who and what has brought them to this current place in their lives. Nor do they find time to dream about the goodness of what could be in their future. The need to do more, to have more and be better can drive them forward with anxiety, fear and obligation, stopping them from finding joy, connection and positive emotions along the way. What if we were to take a moment and savour the good?
“Savouring” involves noticing positives and using cognitive and behavioural strategies to enhance and expand the positive experience.
Bryant and Veroff (2007) have proposed that savouring has three components:
(1) savouring through anticipation, a broad future-oriented approach that brings about positive emotions as we contemplate what is to come;
(2) savouring through reminiscing, a past-oriented approach where we look back on our past and appreciate positive emotions evoked by memories;
(3) savouring the moment, a present-oriented approach that identifies what is good right now and extends and expands the time focused on it, to enhance positive emotions (Bryant, 2003).
Savouring is different from pleasure and happiness, as it is about attentional focus and appreciation to positive feelings and moments, whereas the sensation of pleasure can still occur even when we are not mindful of, consciously attending to, or savouring pleasure (Bryant & Veroff, 2007). We need to actively engage in savouring or these positive moments can just slip away unnoticed and not remembered.
There are different types of savouring but here are some of the most common:
Luxuriating (positive emotion involved: pleasure). When we think of savouring, we often think of luxuriating: easing into a hot bath and feeling our muscles relax, reading a book on a lounge chair in the sunshine, taking that first lick of an ice cream cone on a hot day.
Marvelling (awe). Some experiences inspire savouring by their very nature. A mountain range that goes on for miles, a beautiful sunset, the quiet sacredness of an ancient cathedral, art, architecture, dance and athletic feats of speed and strength.
Basking (pride). When we enjoy the warm glow of praise, accomplishment and achievement, we are basking. We only reach a particular goal once, but we can extend the gratifying feeling by reminiscing and interpersonal sharing of our successes.
Thanksgiving (gratitude). A state of thanksgiving, were we feel grateful internally and express it outwardly. It can happen when simply reflecting on all the good in our life from clean drinking water, to a safe place to sleep, to those who have been there for us in a time of need or put forward greater effort than we anticipated. We take time to recognize, notice and give thanks.
Savouring is positively associated with present happiness, percentage of happiness in a day, higher levels of self esteem, optimism and extraversion (Bryant, 2003). But, positive events alone are not enough to bring about happiness, people need to be able to attend to and appreciate the positive feelings that emerge from positive events (Bryant & Veroff, 2007).
How to increase savouring
We can increase savouring through cognitive and behavioural strategies and/or with interpersonal sharing. These different ways of savouring have different effects on positive outcomes. Savouring the present moment and reminiscing is associated with increased positive emotions, while interpersonal sharing of positive events in person or on the phone/video chat are associated the higher levels of life satisfaction (Quoidbach, Berry,Hansenne & Mikolajczak, 2010). These positive effects of interpersonal sharing did not occur if sharing was through social media (such as Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat posting), the benefit is in the interpersonal sharing not just in the sharing of what is good.
Here are some strategies you may want to try…….
Present: Savouring the Moment
Savouring the moment was found to be positively associated with satisfaction with life, subjective happiness, and positive affect (Hurley & Kwon). We can connect with positive emotions behaviourally by expressing them through smiling and laughing, and by telling others how much we are enjoying the positive event. By recognizing and reminding ourselves that positive moments are transient we can cognitively focus on enjoying the moment while it lasts (Hurley & Kwon, 2013).
To enhance savouring the moment, Hurley & Kwon (2013) encourage us to take time to enjoy something that we would usually hurry through. For example the Raisin Meditation, below is an example of how to slow down and savour food, if raisons aren’t your thing then try a grape or some other substitute for this exercise. In the words of mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, “When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide a universe of sensory experience.”
Mindful Eating-The Raisin Meditation: How to do it (5 minutes)
1. Holding: First, take a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb.
2. Seeing: Take time to really focus on it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention—imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique features.
3. Touching: Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture. Maybe do this with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.
4. Smelling: Hold the raisin beneath your nose. With each inhalation, take in any smell, aroma, or fragrance that may arise. As you do this, notice anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.
5. Placing: Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the raisin in your mouth; without chewing, noticing how it gets into your mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments focusing on the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
6. Tasting: When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in your mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment. Also pay attention to any changes in the object itself.
7. Swallowing: When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the raisin.
8. Following: Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into your stomach, and sense how your body as a whole is feeling after you have completed this exercise.
(Source: The Greater Good Science Center: Uvm, Scholarworks, Sabrina Bedell, Mentor Erica Lovett, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-zinn. "Eating One Raisin: A First Taste of Mindfulness.")
Past: Savouring Through Reminiscing
You can also reminisce about past positive experiences by seeking to remember with all of your five senses, allowing yourself to laugh and smile and to take time to share your experience with others. You can use photographs and images of your favourite places to enhance your memories. You can chat with old friends and bring up a positive past memory, “Remember when _______”. Friends may have additional details to offer which can help extend and expand your own memory of the event. Not only can this kind of savouring remind you of positive past events, but it can also help to connect you with others in the present, building connections and present-moment savouring of reconnection.
When reminiscing about past positive experiences you may begin to recognize how others were there for you, evoking feelings of gratitude. To further savour this moment you could write a gratitude letter and meet with the person face-to-face to read the letter (Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005). The gratitude letter has been studied and works to enhance positive emotions as it affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you and supported you along the way. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection, recognizing how others value you as an individual and how you value them as well. Research suggests that while there are benefits simply to writing the letter, significantly greater benefits can be reaped from delivering and reading it in person.
Gratitude Letter: How To Do It
Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. This could be a relative, friend, teacher, or colleague. Try to pick someone who is still alive and could meet you face-to-face in the next week. It may be most helpful to select a person or act that you haven’t thought about for a while—something that isn’t always on your mind.
Now, write a letter to one of these people, guided by the following steps.
Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”)
Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).
Next, if at all possible to deliver your letter in person, following these steps:
Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
Take your time reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction and discuss your feelings together.
Remember to give the letter to the person when you leave.
If physical distance keeps you from making a visit, you may choose to arrange a phone or video chat.
Gratitude letters can also help support relational savouring which involves deeply focusing one’s attention on a moment of shared positive connection with another person (Lenger & Gordon, 2019). These shared experiences between individuals can enhance feelings of connectedness (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004).
Future: Savouring through Anticipation
Savouring through anticipation is seen as looking forward to future positive events so that positive feelings are generated in the present. Future savouring can increase hopefulness and optimism about the future. Creating rituals to enhance savouring through anticipation such as booking your next vacation at the end of your last vacation, or asking yourself “what am I looking forward to today, this week or in the coming weeks?”. To further enhance anticipatory savouring, engage with cognitive imagery and visualization such as meditation or vision boards about a positive future. This can significantly deepen the experience and become a daily reminder of future goals.
What gets in the way?
Lower savouring of success has been associated with an over-focus on worries about future performance and the perception that positive emotions have limited utility or benefit (Schall, Goetz, Martiny & Hall, 2017).
Research in Positive Psychology has helped us better understand the important role of positive emotions and the benefits go far beyond passing pleasant feelings. Positive emotions help buffer adverse effects of negative experiences, build social resources and support, improve coping and problem-solving processes, boost resilience and improve physiological responses to stress and negative emotions (Smith & Hollinger-Smith, 2015).
Positive emotions do not just feel good; they benefit individuals and society in many ways. Positive emotions also foster creative thinking and efficient problem solving, to enhance self-regulation, to promote desirable social outcomes such as cooperation, and even to contribute to physical health (Fredrickson, 1998; Isen, 2000).
Hurley and Kwon (2013) found that the relationship between the number of positive experiences and well-being (measured by positive emotions and life satisfaction) depended on an individual’s ability to savour the moment. Those who demonstrate a high ability to savour the moment were able to amplify the benefits of positive experiences and reported positive outcomes regardless of the number of positive experiences. Whereas those who demonstrated a low ability to savour the moment required far more positive experiences to enhance their sense of well-being. This shows us that it’s not just about how many positive experiences we have in a day that matter, but also the ability to savour those experiences before, during, and after.
Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness helps us understand that our brain has developed a negativity bias to help our species survive over millennia. Our brain is like Teflon for positive experiences and Velcro for negative experiences. We are wired to look passed good news and scan for problems to be solved. Unless we consciously recognize and take in good facts and moments into our long term memory, the moments will not be remembered as good experiences and our brain will just wash them away like water through a drain. Through conscious attention to what is good for at least ten seconds (but the longer the better), we can engage our memory system to install these experiences in our brain. Taking time to recall and reminisce continues to remind our brain that we want to keep these positive memories around in long term storage where they can be accessed easily.
As Hanson puts it: “what flows through your mind changes your brain”. Noticing the good and using savouring strategies to enhance and extend what is good, will not only impact the positivity of that moment, but can impact you for a lifetime.
Written by Amy Capern
***If you would like support in implementing these strategies, please reach out to me and I am happy to support you. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bryant, F. (2003). Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savouring. Journal of mental health, 12(2), 175-196.
Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of general psychology, 2(3), 300-319.
Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of personality and social psychology, 87(2), 228.
Hanson, R. (2016). Hardwiring happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence. Harmony.
Hurley, D., & Kwon, P. (2013). Savoring Helps Most When You Have Little: Interaction Between Savoring the Moment and Uplifts on Positive Affect and Satisfaction with Life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(4), 1261–1271.
Hurley, D., & Kwon, P. (2012). Results of a Study to Increase Savoring the Moment: Differential Impact on Positive and Negative Outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(4), 579–588.
Isen, A. M. (2000). Some perspectives on positive affect and self-regulation. Psychological inquiry, 11(3), 184-187.
Lenger, K. A., & Gordon, C. L. (2019). To have and to savor: Examining the associations between savoring and relationship satisfaction. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 8(1), 1-9.
Schall, M., Goetz, T., Martiny, S., & Hall, N. (2017). It ain’t over ’til it’s over: The effect of task completion on the savoring of success. Motivation & Emotion, 41(1), 38–50.
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410.
Smith, J. L., & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 19(3), 192–200.
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.
Uvm, Scholarworks, Sabrina Bedell, Mentor Erica Lovett, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-zinn. "Eating One Raisin: A First Taste of Mindfulness."