Savoring the Positive

August 5, 2009

The next intentional activity from The How of Happiness is savoring life’s joys.  Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness.  The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude, the second was deliberate optimism, the third was to stop overthinking and comparing ourselves to others, the fourth was practicing acts of kindness, the fifth was social support, the sixth was coping with stress, the seventh was learning to forgive, and the eight was increasing flow.

Researchers define savoring as any thoughts or behaviors capable of “generating, intensifying, and prolonging enjoyment.” When you “stop and smell the roses” instead of walking by obliviously, you are savoring.  When you bask and take pride in your own or your friends’ accomplishments, you are savoring. When you suddenly emerge out of a frazzled or distracted state and become fully aware of how much there is to enjoy in life, you are savoring. This is the slight difference between savoring and flow: savoring requires a stepping outside of experience and reviewing it, whereas flow involves a complete immersion in the experience. Whether it involves a focus on the long ago, the present moment, or future times, the habit of savoring has been shown in empirical research to be related to intense and frequent happiness. (pp. 192-193).

Some of the best evidence-based writing on savoring can be found in the book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience.  Savoring is a process of attending to, appreciating, or enhancing positive experience, not the outcome of enjoyment or pleasure.  Savoring, then, is a powerful positive capacity that we can all develop in ourselves.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to develop our capacity to savor at work:

  •  Slow down enough to find the positive in your daily routine and activities.  Find a way to appreciate and enjoy the seemingly mundane part of your work.  Strive to bask in the feeling of accomplishment with the little things before you rush on to the next task.  Find the excellence in the things that you and others do daily.
  • Celebrate good news.  If you are the leader, make sure you do this as often as possible for your folks.  If your leader is not doing this for you, do it for yourself.  I am constantly on the lookout for ways to reward myself with some dark chocolate or my favorite beer.
  • Replay great days in your mind.  No need to analyze that day, just replay it.  What did you do, how did you feel?  Did your great day involve doing great things for others?  If so, can you remember the look on their faces or what they said to you?
  • Reminisce with colleagues.  Remember that fantastic leader we used to work for?  How about that time we impressed the socks off a customer and won new business?  My first dean never missed an opportunity to tell me “You know, you were NOT our first choice for this job.”  That still cracks me up and I tell that story to a lot of my colleagues.   
  • Transport yourself to the time when you will accomplish your goal.  How will you feel?  How will you celebrate?  How will you accomplishing this goal help those you have been given the privilege to lead?
  • Focus daily on your larger purpose.  Maintain perspective.  Daily savor why you do what you do and why it matters so much. 

In my bathtub analogy of stress, savoring is the process of regulating the stock and flow of hot water in the tub, while coping focuses on the cold water.  The comfort of your bath is based on how well you learn to regulate both the positive and the negative.  Most of us are a lot better coping with the negative, but a focus on the positive merits more of our attention and effort.

Consider it a responsibility to develop these positive capacities in you.  Be a role model, and see what you can do to help others develop their own positive capacities.

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  1. Committing To Your Goals « Bret L. Simmons | August 12, 2009
  1. Bret,

    After a frustrating afternoon of car troubles, your posting is like a breath of fresh air. And I love the idea of “savoring” – conjures up a slowing, a noticing, that we seldom do without a reminder. I tend to use the word “intentional” – but savoring has a different meaning, and positive intent that is just wonderful. Thanks for lifting my spirits.

  2. Yikes! Sorry to hear about your car problems, Mary Jo. I know you lift a LOT of spirits with the generousity and grace you show others. Thanks once again for taking the time to comment – so appreciated. Bret

  3. Love the analogy of water in the bathtub…also great advice for everyday living and success. It reminds me of Be Here Now. Whenever I want to have a pity party, I go back to the positives in my life and I move forward. I keep a photo of the one room stone house we lived in in France, without running water or toilet and remind myself how lucky I am to have the comforts I have now. Life is truly a matter of perspective. Thanks again Bret.

  4. Alain: So true, and perspective I believe is a matter of choice. Choices about what we pay attention to, choices about the processes we use to interpt our situations and experiences, and choices about how we chose to think and behave based on our interpretations.

    Thanks once again for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. You know I value them. Bret

  5. I think you bring up some valuable points here, Bret and shed light on our tendency to focus more on the negative moments in our lives instead of the positive. Granted, we shouldn’t go around looking at life through rose-coloured glasses. However, if people actually timed how long they muse over some negative event and compare that to how long they appreciate those little moments that serve as pick-me-ups, I think we’d realize just how half-empty glass lookers we can get.

    Imagine if we could all retrain our outlook to let go quicker of those downturns and build on the momentum of those high points how much more fruitful our lives would not only feel, but be.

    Hopefully with astute posts like yours, Bret, more people will learn to savour those moments more.

  6. Tanveer: I think you are correct, we can retrain our outlook and learn to savor the positive just like we learn to cope with the negative.

    I’m glad you stopped by to share your thoughts! BTW, I love your website. Thanks!


  7. Thanks Bret, I appreciate that. I’m enjoying your website as well. Following you on Twitter so I can keep up with your latest pieces.

    Thanks again for sharing this piece.