How to savor

Welcome to week 2 of The Year of Happy‘s month on savoring. The Year of Happy is a free online course in the science of happiness. Not signed up yet? Enter your email here and you’ll get a weekly dose of readings and videos to further your happiness education. When we savor, it’s almost like twisting the lens on a camera. Blurriness disappears and things start to come into focus; we finally see the positive experiences in life for what they are and can’t stop staring at them. Without learning to savor, the world remains a bit fuzzy. How clearly do you see and appreciate the good in your life? Below are some common strategies that people use to savor an experience, along with three exercises you can do to increase your savoring.

9 savoring strategies

In Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, authors Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff identify nine different strategies that people commonly use to enhance their savoring. All of them serve three common aims: they either help us move into a savoring mindset (instead of worrying or ruminating, for example), make the savoring last longer, or make it more intense. Which of the below strategies do you use, and which could you add to your savoring repertoire? 1. Sharing with others. The most powerful savoring strategy brings other people into the mix. In some cases, we are literally sharing the experience with them, like when we attend a concert. We enjoy witnessing their enjoyment, and they may point out new aspects to savor (Look at that virtuoso drummer!). Around other people, we tend to laugh and smile more, to be more expressive, playful, and spontaneous. But even if other people aren’t present, the mere thought of telling them about an amazing film or a perfect latte can enhance our savoring. We might even take note of more details, just so we can recount them later. 2. Memory building. In this strategy, we actively try to note details of the experience so we will remember them later. I witnessed this at a wedding once, when I could literally see the bride trying to capture every moment and fully take it in. This is a common strategy for rare events like weddings. 3. Self-congratulation. Self-congratulation, a form of basking, extends the pleasure we take in accomplishments. We might think about how proud we are, how impressed other people are, or how long we’ve been waiting for this; we might even do a fist pump or a victory dance.4. Sensory-perceptual sharpening. If the positive experience engages our senses with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or touch, we might try sensory-perceptual sharpening: trying to focus in on a certain stimulus and nothing else. This could be why massage rooms are quiet and dark, and why we shut our eyes for that first luscious bite of dessert. 5. Comparison. As Hector finds out in his search for happiness, comparisons are crucial – flying in business class doesn’t feel all that good if you’re used to first class. But downward comparisons can make us happier. We savor an experience even more when we think about how it might never have happened, or how we weren’t so lucky in the past. A student accepted into graduate school could imagine what rejection would have felt like, or how only yesterday his future was uncertain. 6. Absorption. Sometimes when we savor, we want to think as little as possible – to be fully immersed and present. We might use this strategy when listening to a rousing symphony, as music fills our ears and emotions swell within us, or during a spiritual experience. 7. Behavioral expression. In a famous psychology experiment, people holding a pen between their teeth while reading a cartoon rated it as funnier, thanks to the smile-like expression produced. This savoring strategy involves physical expressions of positivity – laughing, jumping, dancing – that create a positive loop of enjoyment. 8. Counting blessings. With this strategy, we think about how lucky we are to be experiencing or to have experienced something positive. Practicing gratitude like this is actually a form of savoring because it increases our enjoyment of the good things in life. 9. Temporal awareness. In this savoring strategy, we remind ourselves that the experience won’t last forever, though we wish it would. It’s finite, which makes us enjoy it all the more. This is a common strategy for rare and bittersweet experiences. In this video, which also featured in our month on gratitude, happiness expert Gretchen Rubin shares the story of how temporal awareness helped her learn to savor bus rides to school with her young daughter – bus rides they wouldn’t always take together. Perhaps the reason why this video resonates so much with people is because not enjoying the good in life is one of the biggest tragedies of all. 

3 savoring exercises

The Daily Vacation Exercise. In this exercise, you carve out 20 minutes every day for a week to do something enjoyable. It should be totally uninterrupted time, free from distractions, worries, and stresses. During your “mini vacation,” try to focus fully on what you’re feeling and express it. You might use the memory building strategy discussed above to capture details in your mind. Need inspiration? Try a Savoring Walk, reading a book at a cafe, visiting a new museum, taking a bath, or eating a new food. At the end of the 20 minutes, plan your next day’s vacation and start looking forward to it. At the end of the day, reflect on your vacation and relive the feelings. At the end of the week, reflect on all your vacations and enjoy them anew. All this should make you happier. The Life Review Exercise. In this exercise, you write about three savoring experiences from the past. You should record as much detail as you can, including when they happened, where you were, and who you were with. Start with one, and then try to think of a similar savoring experience for the second. For the third, write about the first time you savored something similar. The process of connecting related experiences is called chaining, and it creates a web of positive associations in the mind. The Camera Exercise. Find two objects that interest you – flowers, buildings, roads, cars – and take about 15-20 photos of each. While you’re doing so, observe the patterns of light, color, and texture in your object; change your camera angle and position to find new shots that are visually pleasing. When you’re done, print or download the photos and look at them again, looking for new aspects to enjoy. For inspiration, watch photographer Chris Orwig’s meaningful talk about finding the magnificent in the mundane, which weaves in the savoring of beauty with a story of recovery:

Choose your happiness practice

  • The Daily Vacation Exercise: Take a 20-minute “vacation” each day for a week, and see if you want to continue. (I bet you will.) 
  • The Life Review Exercise: Try this one or two times per week.
  • The Camera Exercise: Try this twice a week, with the same or different objects.
Which savoring exercise did you pick? Share with us on the Year of Happy Facebook group.

Sources and further reading:

  • Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience

Go back to Week 1: What is savoring?

Move on to Week 3: The benefits of savoring

See the whole Year of Happy curriculum