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The Science of Savouring

As the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a great deal of worry and concern amongst many as they deal with health concerns, losing loved ones, the plummeting unemployment rates and the shrinking economy. The mental health and wellbeing of many populations have already been widely affected. The crucial psychological impact of the pandemic is elevated levels of stress and anxiety with interventions such as the lockdown and social distancing having its effects on many people’s normal activities, routines and livelihoods. This has induced loneliness, depression, and substance abuse with suicidal behaviour also on the rise. In times like these, we could spend days just worrying about and catastrophising about all the things that could go wrong or get worse. But really, what good would that do? Instead, I want to use today’s post to write about the importance of amplifying the positive moments in our lives even in these times, and mastering the art of savouring everyday moments, however small they may be.

The concept of savouring was introduced by researchers Fred Byrant and Joseph Veroff and is a critical component in the field of positive psychology. They defined savouring as the ‘capacity to attend to, appreciate and enhance the positive experiences in one’s life’. Savouring is something we do and not something that happens and requires active engagement on our behalf. Just like in times of adversity we learn and use coping mechanisms to deal with negative events. Whilst coping skills shrink painful moments, savouring can help us amplify the positive ones. Savouring requires us to slow down intentionally and mindfully attend to our environment, feelings and experiences.

Savouring occurs in different timeframes. Studies have shown that people savour through the past (reminiscing), the present (in the moment) and the future (anticipating). We anticipate future pleasures (for instance I am savouring being able to go away in August for a long weekend to the seaside), experience present pleasures (enjoying my cup of tea and the silence as I write this piece) and reminisce about past pleasures (going on a long ramble yesterday, forgetting about all my worries and just being amongst nature). Savouring is a particularly useful positive skill to develop especially in these times – researchers have identified countless benefits to savouring including stronger relationships, improved mental and physical health and finding more creative solutions to problems. Here are a few well-validated strategies on how to enhance savouring across time orientation and process:

  • Sharing with others: Sharing positive experiences with others is the single strongest predictor of positivity and happiness. Professor Bryant says, “What’s the first thing you do when you get good news? You share it with others.” Telling another person when you are feeling particularly appreciative of a particular moment can increase savouring levels. Savouring is the glue to bond people together and it is essential to prolonging and deepening relationships. Even during these tough times, there are so many moments for us to savour. Share them with loved ones.

  • Memory building: When you experience something positive we can engage in what is called memory building. Take mental photographs for future recall. Even just now, pause for a moment and consciously be aware of the things you want to remember later, such as a walk in nature or a touching moment with your partner.

  • Self-congratulation: Especially in these hard times, don’t forget to congratulate yourself for all the hard work you are putting in, be it at work or at home. Research shows that people who celebrate their successes even tiny ones are more likely to enjoy the outcome.

  • Counting blessings/gratitude: Gratitude is particularly powerful in this current environment. Research suggests that saying thank you out loud and counting our blessings can affirm positive feelings. Recalling experiences through gratitude will help us savour it.

Finally, before I go, I want to share a savouring exercise that you can try out any time.

This has been adapted from Ryan Niemiec’s book on Character Strengths Interventions. I am a big fan of the outdoors and nature and this is a savouring activity I practice when I am on my hikes. For this activity begin by going outside and preferably to a place in the park or the outdoors that resonates with you. Once you are there. Notice the landscape. Allow yourself to be immersed in its beauty – the sounds, visual details and smells. Take notice of something particularly positive – something that makes you feel good. It might be the sound of babbling water, the majesty of a giant tree, or the bird sounds. Absorb yourself in the details. Notice any positive feelings present within you – such as peacefulness, love, gratitude, optimism, hope and so on. Tune in closely with one of these feelings. Appreciate how good it feels. Extend it by breathing with it. It might feel like your breadth is enhancing the experience. You don’t always need to go out; you can try similar savouring exercises at anytime – with a cup of tea, with silence, when eating a dish you love, when playing with your child or a puppy.

Savour now and don’t wait. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that happiness is just around the corner or you can feel happy only when the tough times pass. Savouring my friends is an active way to notice and enjoy the good things already present in our lives. Take care, stay safe and be well.

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