“These are the good old days.”
That’s what my good friend always says when she’s enjoying a moment. It could be when we’re walking our dogs at Umstead park, strolling around downtown Durham, or bicycling through Meadowmont.
What I love about the phrase “these are the good old days” is that it doesn’t yearn for a time already passed, but instead appreciates an experience as it’s happening. When she says “these are the good old days,” she invites me to stop and notice the beauty of our current circumstance, so that we can share a brief moment of mutual gratitude.
Savoring: Become a Connoisseur of the Current Moment
We spend a lot of our lives rewinding time in our minds or fast-forwarding to the future. It’s easy to get caught up in what has already happened or what happens next. But when we press pause, we afford ourselves the opportunity to marinate in a moment. We’re able to notice nuances and take pleasure in sensations we might otherwise miss.
Fred B. Bryant, a psychology professor, coined this act of consciously attending to the positive aspects of an experience savoring. You might consider savoring as the antidote to stressing. When we stress, we’re inclined to focus on the pain points in life, but when we savor, we put instances of joy and pleasure in the spotlight.
The word savoring is derived from the latin savor which means “to taste.” How refined is your sense of taste? Connoisseurs have polished their palates to distinguish unique flavor profiles of food and wine. They can identify notes of nutmeg in a cup of coffee or accents of apple in a glass of chardonnay.
Just as we can savor the flavors of food to enhance our culinary experience, we can also strengthen the skill of savoring life’s non-edible pleasures.
Deactivating Autopilot to Savor More: A Quick & Simple Exercise
Have you ever arrived home and realized you don’t remember the drive at all? When we’re on autopilot, we tend to miss details. To deactivate our natural tendency towards mindless routine, we have to actively attend to a moment, and that can be difficult.
One helpful strategy for developing the skill of savoring is to imagine yourself (or maybe Morgan Freeman) providing a voice-over to the scene you’re experiencing. This exercise activates your awareness and heightens your senses. It holds an experience still, even if just for a few seconds, so that you can examine and enjoy its ingredients.
- What do you see around you? What do you hear?
- Can you taste or smell anything?
- What interactions are you witnessing, if any?
- How does the situation make you feel? Is it satisfying in any way?
- If you could take a photo to remember the experience, what would it be? Take a mental snapshot right now.
When you make an intentional effort to mentally document your life, you strengthen your savoring muscle. You are training your brain to more mindful and appreciative of opportunities in the present.
I like to think of savoring as nowstalgia. Unlike nostalgia, which is felt after an event has occurred, savoring affords you warm sentiments and satisfaction here and now.
The Benefits of Savoring
Have you ever been having a great day, only to feel like it’s ruined by extra traffic on the expressway, a curt email, or a neighbor’s barking dog?
Our brains are wired to negativity. That means that unpleasant experiences are more psychologically “sticky” than positive ones; they feel more intense and are harder to forget. Theoretically this keeps us safe and out of harm’s way– it’s unlikely we’ll touch a hot stove twice. However, in our daily lives, this means that even minor setbacks can overshadow our joys and successes.
Savoring helps to counteract our negativity bias by making positive experiences “stickier.” When we pause to notice life’s day to day pleasures, we give them weight, and are more likely to store them in our long-term memory. Overtime, savoring can help rewire our brains to be less sensitive to negativity and more resilient in the face of adversity.
Savoring the Significant
Milestones and major life events may seem easy to savor. But as you’ve probably experienced, the planning and stress involved in significant life transitions can zap your energy and ability to be present.
The clip below from Father of the Bride provides a great example of how to savor a special occasion. Amidst the stress of the wedding, George Banks (Steve Martin) takes a moment to soak up the scenes of his daughter’s wedding.
Savoring the Simple
With careful consideration, you’ll notice that even the most mundane days contain micro opportunities for contentment. Don’t let those pass you by. Capture them in your mind by noticing them. Simple pleasures such as a nice breeze, a tasty meal, or a relaxing walk are worth acknowledging. Cherish time with your grandkids or a good book.
Many of you may remember the viral YouTube video of a man relishing a double rainbow. For nearly four full minutes he beholds the beauty of nature with pure awe and appreciation. What simple pleasures can you notice and treasure in your everyday environment?