That’s right—actually taking a moment to stop and savor our positive feelings serves to increase them. This isn’t just a lofty idea; there is sound research to back it up. Several studies have shown that those who stop to savor a pleasant event experience a big happiness boost. It kind of gives new meaning to “stop and smell the roses.”
What It Means to Savor
Savoring is the act of mindfully attending to the experience of pleasure. We savor a feeling or event when we stop to notice and appreciate it. In a sense, savoring is a way to try to prolong or intensify a pleasurable event.
Savoring isn’t limited to the present moment. In fact, savoring is effective during an event, but also in anticipation of a pleasurable event or in reminiscence of a past event. What’s more, we can “vicariously savor” by appreciating someone else’s pleasure.
Does it sound too simple or too good to be true? Researchers have tracked it. Those who savor events—by stopping to focus on the event, telling someone about it, or even screaming in delight or laughing—experience more pleasure from the event and in fact, appear to get a happiness boost over those who “squelch” an event—by complaining that it could have been better, that they didn’t deserve it, or that it was almost over.[i]
Think about it—what’s the first thing you want to do when you get good news? Most of us want to share it with someone else. This is a way of savoring the experience—not to mention providing an opportunity for someone else to vicariously savor it—and has been shown to boost happiness and interpersonal relationships.[ii]
Benefits of Savoring
Savoring is good for you. It can:
Positive effects of a good night's sleep on one's health
Lack of sleep is annoying and might lead to a few uncomfortable situations, like counting sheep or drinking more caffeine than usual.
- Increase happiness: Savoring keeps us focused on the positive, which in turn leads to more positive feelings—just as focusing on the negative has a tendency to lead to more negative thinking.
- Improve wellbeing: Savoring floods our system with “feel-good” neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which can reduce stress and calm our nervous system.
- Improve decision-making: Savoring helps us to remember what was pleasurable and what worked in the past, thereby helping us to make better decisions for the future.
- Improve self-efficacy: Savoring helps us to build confidence by focusing on what we have accomplished.
So what does this mean for you? If you want to boost your happiness, start savoring the pleasurable feelings, moments, and events in your life. This isn’t rocket science and it’s not a skill reserved for the lucky few—anyone can learn to savor the positive. All it takes is a conscious decision to really appreciate the small and large joys in life.
Sometimes savoring can be easier said than done, especially in our busy society where every moment is filled. But busy-ness is no excuse—all of us can learn to savor. All it takes is a little practice—along with some mindfulness and an effort to notice and appreciate the present moment.
Ready to savor? Start with a savoring exercise:
- Choose: Choose a pleasurable event such as taking a walk in the woods, baking a cake, or taking a trip.
- Anticipate: Anticipate how wonderful the event will be. Get excited about the details. Focus on what you will appreciate.
- Experience: During the event, focus on the sensory experience. Use all five senses and enjoy every aspect of the experience. Pause to notice and appreciate what you’re experiencing and feeling. Share your feelings with someone or write them down.
- Reminisce: Look back on the event and reminisce about it. Share it with someone. Turn it into a story that brings you pleasure.
[i]Jose PE, Lim BT, Bryant FB. Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2012; 7(3): 176-187.
[ii]Reis HT, Smith SM, Carmicheal CL, et al. Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2010; 99(2): 311-29.