Savor More to Cope Less
Take a moment to notice what you are doing right now. If you have a warm drink in your hand, become mindful of the qualities of the beverage you are having. If you are simply reading this article, observe how your mind is active and hungry for new information. Make an effort to really appreciate this moment and the fact that you are taking the time to stimulate your brain.
The exercise that you just did is called savoring. Savoring is the ability to recognize and appreciate the good in life. It is essentially about tuning into the little things that truly impact us on a deeper level. It is also about taking a step back to think about the things that bring us joy and happiness in life.
Positive psychologists study the concept of savoring as a counterpart to coping. They argue that an individual’s capacity to cope with stress well does not reflect his/her capacity to enjoy the positive experiences in life. In essence, savoring is just as much a skill as coping.
As you might know, there are multiple ways to cope with stress. Active problem solving, seeking support, avoidance, and/or wishful thinking could all be listed as examples of coping. In general, we are taught to cope with a stressful situation that has already taken place. However, savoring is at our disposal should we choose to use it; we can savor at the moment, in retrospect of a positive life event, or when we are anticipating a future happy event. In a way, savoring does not seem to be time-bound.
Ways to savor
In a 2012 study, Professor Paul Jose from Victoria University of Wellington and colleagues studied how savoring impacts people’s happiness. Participants in the study journaled every day about their positive experiences and whether they savored them or not for a month. Jose and colleagues found that savoring did help people stay in a happy mood.
According to the researchers, the best way to enhance savoring is to share the positive experience with someone later on. Depending on what the experience is, you may think about how lucky, grateful or proud you are to have that experience. These feelings seem to enhance savoring and add to your happiness.
On the other hand, stepping out of the present moment and focusing on what you are going to do once the positive experience is over blocks savoring. For example, thinking about the lecture you have to attend when you are on your lunch break instead of enjoying your pizza or a refreshing walk around the block can diminish your ability to savor.
In 2006, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California and colleagues did a study where they asked a total of 112 participants (17 – 29 years old) to think about their happy memories eight minutes a day for three days. While half of the participants were instructed to think about their happiest memory while replaying it in their minds, the other half were asked to write about their most cherished memory. More specifically, those in the thinking group were asked to think of their memories with an emphasis on what happened, their feelings, and their behaviors.
Lyubomirsky and colleagues found that thinking about the most joyful moments in our lives sustains happiness for a long period of time. In their study, the participants who thought about the good times they had months prior to the experiment had sustained their happiness for four weeks.
Take home message
Most of the time, we are encouraged to focus on coping with stress and healing from adverse life experiences. However, evidence suggests that finding the sweet spots in our lives impacts our psychological health in profound ways. Savoring not only boosts happiness but also helps us to seek out the good in life.
Our lives are filled with wondrous moments, why not make them count?
- 1. Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Psychology Press
- 2. Jose, P. E., Lim, B. T., & Bryant, F. B. (2012) Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7 (3), 176-187, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.671345
- 3. Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., & Dickerhoof, R. (2006). The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about life’s triumphs and defeats. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 692–708, DOI: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242