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The Science of Savoring

Have you recently gazed at a spectacular sunset, indulged in a muscle-soothing massage, reveled in a personal achievement or counted your blessings? These examples are all different types of savoring. To savor something is to enjoy it fully, to appreciate it, or relish it. As an avid chocolate lover, for example, I love to savor the smooth, creamy taste of cacao as I let it slowly melt on my tongue.

Slow down and enjoy

Savoring requires a deliberate, mindful awareness of the present moment, according to Fred Bryant, Ph.D., a social psychologist at Loyola University of Chicago and a leading expert on savoring.

Fred's body of work, summarized in his book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, shows that when we slow down our thoughts to savor positive events we experience enhanced well-being. In fact, when we focus on really “being” with and connecting to these special moments, instead of letting them quickly pass by (see: Find the Sacred in Everyday Life), we are able to increase the effect these positive events have on our emotions.  

Using our senses

There are a variety of ways to savor.  Fred's research indicates we savor in four dimensions:

  • Marveling (losing ourselves in awe and wonder)
  • Luxuriating (indulging our senses, like we do when we bite into rich and delicious chocolate)
  • Basking (focusing on receiving praise)
  • Thanksgiving (expressing gratitude)

Savoring can be taught

While some of us seem to naturally savor positive moments in life, for those of us who don't, it's fortunately a habit that can be taught. “Like any cognitive-behavioral skill, we get better at it with practice,” Fred says.  

If we wait for savoring to happen on its own, there's a good chance in our frenetic and over-scheduled lives, it won't. Like other priorities, such as our family, friends and fitness routines, we need to allot time for savoring. Fred suggests we make a point of savoring at least one positive thing each day. “Don’t just wait for savoring to happen on its own—instead, be proactive and set aside time to seek joy,” he says.

Make it a routine

One particular way my family practices savoring is incorporating it into our daily bedtime routine. Each night, we aim to recount one good thing that happened to us that day. My husband, James, our almost 5-year-old son, Liam, and I each take turns. It really helps us as a family—and as individuals—to remember and relish the positive by counting our blessings or expressing gratitude. And this exercise teaches our son at a young age the importance of looking for the good in life rather than dwelling on the bad.

Bask in the silver linings

Savoring is a healthy habit to cultivate and practice, especially during the tough times. For example, my husband had a bad biking accident two nights ago. He broke his left wrist, damaged his right arm and was pretty banged up. When it was my turn to count my blessings I remarked that “Daddy's biking accident could have been much worse” and that “I was grateful that his wounds would heal.” Liam seemed to be reassured that along with the bad in life there's always an opportunity to seek out a silver lining.

No doubt a beneficial lesson for all of us to learn at any age.                                                                        

Suzann Pileggi Pawelski is a freelance journalist and contributing editor for Live Happy.

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