Positive psychology research has given us numerous ideas how to maximize our well-being. Much of the research and empirical evidence on these interventions suggest that if practiced regularly, can lead to long-term benefits for our overall well-being. Practicing gratitude, engaging in immersive ‘flow’ activities that absorb and occupy our senses, and cultivating mindfulness have certainly received a lot of attention and research. But what about maximizing your enjoyment for your pleasant experiences? We’re not encouraging you to adopt a more hedonistic approach to life. In keeping with the general tone and ideal of moderation in positive psychology interventions, however, we’re wondering if you could, in a sense, ‘get more out of’ the various pleasant and enjoyable life experiences. We are inclined towards focusing on the negatives in our lives, but how much do we truly savour the pleasant experiences that come your way?
Savouring is a slightly less well-known positive psychology intervention in comparison to say, gratitude, flow, or mindfulness. Work on savouring is often attributed to Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff, and is considered the “capacity to attend to the joys, pleasure, and other positive feelings that we experience in our lives” . In this regard, savouring shares similarities with mindfulness, but is more specifically directed towards focusing on, and elevating the experience of positive emotions following a pleasant event. Recall the last time you observed natural beauty, or when you were enjoying a good meal in the company of family or friends. Do you remember those experiences in detail? Or did you rush through them, wondering “what’s next?” and what you have to attend to immediately after?
Researchers have suggested that there are at least four ways in which we can prolong and enhance our savouring experience – through (1) expressing felt positive emotions through non-verbal displays, (2) being present, and directing attention towards the pleasant experience, (3) communicating and sharing the positive event with others – i.e. capitalizing on them, and (4) engaging in positive mental time travel . The fourth approach is particularly noteworthy because it suggests that we can savour by either reminiscing about a past pleasant event, or anticipating a potentially positive event. Savouring then, in contrast with mindfulness, can also involve attention being paid towards a non-present state.
As with most (if not all) positive psychology interventions, we can put these to the test to assess what happens when individuals engage in savouring. In one study using what researchers call an experience sampling approach, participants recruited from a New Zealand university completed an ‘online mood diary’ for 30 consecutive days. This online mood diary asked participants to report the frequency, intensity, and impact of positive experiences daily. They also reported their savouring habits, which captured the extent to which they either dampened, or savoured their pleasant experiences. Results from this study showed that momentary positive emotions were related to both momentary savouring and momentary positive mood. Participants who savoured positive emotions reported a greater boost to their daily happiness, relative to participants who didn’t savour their positive emotions . Another study asked college students to engage in savouring – recalling, and then re-living the positive emotion felt when they had a positive experience over the past week. They were asked to do this over a two week period, with the researchers taking measures of their emotions at the start and at the end of the two week period. This study found that individuals who engaged in savouring reported lower levels of negative emotions, as well as depressive symptoms (though, interestingly, there was no increase in positive emotions) .
How about experiencing the possible benefits of savouring for yourself? Here are some tips on how you might elevate your experience of positive emotions through savouring:
Select the savouring approach works best for you and that matches your situation. Remember that you can either prolong positive experiences through behavioural displays, directing attention towards, sharing the positive event, or reminiscing/anticipating about a positive event. For instance, you might considering sharing positive news about a recent successful project with a supportive network of friends, or savour the nostalgia and memories that comes from a spring clean of your home.
Be mindful of the impermanence of all things – good or bad. The Japanese term ‘mono no aware’ (the sensitivity towards, and wistful realization of the impermanence of objects and experiences) is a helpful reminder that our pleasant and unpleasant experiences are often fleeting. It’s easy to dwell and ruminate on the negatives (because of our inherent negativity bias), so savouring might help balance out this tendency, benefitting our general well-being as a consequence as well.
Savour to elevate positive emotions you wish to have more of. Try identifying the positive emotions experienced the next time you engage in savouring. Positive emotions may range from sensory pleasures – say, the satisfaction from a good meal, to the gratitude of having a supportive, and loving social network. Savouring has been shown to, and can be used to enhance positive emotions such as awe, inspiration, and pride. Each positive emotion has a differential benefit, so depending on which positive emotion you wish to have more of, consider the events, and how you can savour in order to experience them more fully next time.