The benefits of savoring

Year of Happy two linesWelcome to week 3 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. 

Because savoring helps enhance our experience of positive emotions, it’s no surprise that it has a whole host of benefits on happiness, health, and performance. Read on to find out more.

More happiness and positive emotions

People who are adept at savoring – who report being able to savor positive outcomes in their life – tend to be happier. Interestingly, feeling like we can savor positive outcomes has a greater effect on our happiness than feeling like we can obtain them. Controlling our attitude may be even more important than controlling our world.

In particular, older adults (about 65 years of age) who can savor more report more intense and more frequent happiness. Perhaps the ability to truly appreciate the good in life is part of wisdom, knowledge that often comes with experience.

People who can savor more are happier, but practicing savoring has similar benefits. In one study, researchers asked participants to take a 20-minute daily walk for a week. Some people were told to focus on the positive aspects around them, some on the negative, and some on nothing in particular. After a week, the positive group was happier and appreciated nature more than the other two groups.

In another study, students were asked to reminisce for 10 minutes twice a day for a week. Compared to those who didn’t reminisce – who thought about general life events instead – the reminiscers ended up happier.

Different types of savoring may correlate with different positive traits. Anticipation and counting one’s blessings are linked to optimism, for example. The ability to savor the present is linked to higher self-esteem, and the ability to savor the past is helpful in coping with stress. Finally, savoring in general is associated with being more extroverted and grateful.

Savoring may also give us a greater sense of meaning in life. A life full of hardship might feel meaningless, but so might a life full of gifts that we can’t seem to enjoy. Savoring helps unlock the treasures that are already in front of us.

Better relationships

Relationships are one of the most rich and valuable contexts for savoring, because savoring itself can build bonds. Think of how it feels when you’re having a particularly good time with a loved one, and you know the other person is having a wonderful time, too.

In high school students, for example, there is a link between the ability to savor and the social support they have. Although social support may increase savoring, it’s also reasonable to think that people who know how to savor their relationships are more likely to attract friends.

In a romantic relationship, we can savor the retelling of how we met our partner and share positive experiences together. We might simply savor the sight of our partner, resulting in those dopey, no-one-else-exists stares. In one study, men who felt savored by their partner (“affective affirmation”) were more likely to be in stable marriages seven years later. Women who felt savored were more likely to be committed to the marriage seven years later.

Fewer negative emotions

People who are better able to savor are less likely to be neurotic, a Big Five personality trait characterized by negative emotions and sensitivity to stress. They’re also less likely to be depressed, exhibit symptoms of strain, or have difficulty feeling pleasure. Reminiscence therapy, which encourages people to savor memories of the past, is a popular intervention to reduce depression in the elderly (and it may even improve cognitive function).

The power of reminiscence, or at least of memories, is demonstrated poignantly in this video, where an elderly man comes alive at the sound of his favorite music:

Better performance

In Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, authors Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff posit that savoring may be part of creativity. Although savoring isn’t the same as flow – the state of intense absorption that heightens performance – it does share the features of clear focus and attention to the present. When we savor, we pay more attention to details and complexity, which may come in handy later when our brains seek out the raw materials of creative ideas. Experiences that were once savored can become the fodder for written masterpieces, scientific experiments, and great business ideas.

In this talk, Cisco chief marketing officer Blair Christie explains how marveling is at the heart of entrepreneurship and inspired her to find more meaning in life:

However, I suspect that the biggest benefits of savoring might come later, when we reflect on our lives. No one wants to feel that they let life pass them by, too distracted or preoccupied to enjoy pleasures that exist no longer. A life savored is a life appreciated, not wasted.

Sources and further reading:

Go back to Week 2: How to savor

Move on to Week 4: When savoring is hard, try this

See the whole Year of Happy curriculum

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