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Savouring The Little Things

5 min read
12/09/22 16:25

Previously, we’ve explored how to leverage our mind’s taste for time travel to strengthen our happiness and wellbeing.

 

While practices like positive reminiscence and positive visualization have many benefits, common credence suggests we should ideally spend most of our time in touch with the present moment.

 

But what does ‘being in the present’ actually mean?

 

To find out, we’ll explore a powerful practice for wellbeing that helps us view our life’s experiences with renewed appreciation and awe. Join us as we take a dive into the sensory science of savouring.

 

Barriers to Accessing the Present

 

Before we go plunging into sensory bliss, it’s important to understand the psychological architecture you’ll be working with. This architecture centers around your attention.

 

Most of us spend a surprising amount of time with our attention directed toward streams of thought in our minds. As we’ve discussed previously, sometimes this can be helpful. But depending on our life’s troubles, the inability to disengage from thoughts can risk trapping us in a mental haunted house, anxiously replaying the past or agonizing over the future.

 

Not only is this no fun, but it can also present an obstacle to getting in touch with the present moment.

 

Another challenge is that many of us are simply so busy that we struggle to fully engage with the present moment and be fully aware of what’s happening right now. Instead, we’re so focused on the next thing to be done, rarely pausing to appreciate what already is. This, again, traps us in a kind of future-focus that prevents us from enjoying everything pleasant the present has to offer.

 

Indeed, research shows that an excessive focus on future goals can drive us to neglect our relationships and hobbies, hurting our wellbeing by endlessly delaying our happiness to some time in the future.[i]

 

Thankfully, when you practice savouring, you can reverse this situation by shifting your attention to positive experiences happening at this very moment.

 

The Psychology of Savouring

 

When you hear the term ‘savouring,’ perhaps images of decadent desserts, melting chocolate, or wagyu steak come to mind. When we taste something delicious, we often let the flavours and textures dance that little bit longer on our tongues.

 

What if sights, sounds, and sensations could invoke this same level of delight? Well, research tells us they can.

 

In psychology, savouring is the process of paying attention to, appreciating, and enhancing positive experiences that occur in your life. Consider the feeling of wonder that sweeps over you when looking up at a starry sky or the calm that sets in as you listen to the lapping waves of the ocean.

 

For some of us, hiking through a national park or lounging on the beach has a way of ‘switching on’ our savouring circuitry automatically. But while trips into nature may be especially awe-inducing, chances are there’s much worth savouring in your day-to-day (e.g., along your commute) that you’ve grown blind to. Why is this?

 

You might think of your mind as constantly holding up a set of filters that hide the many miraculous details of the world. If you consciously processed the delights of your sensory environment all the time, such as the melodies of the birds and the years worn into every tree you passed, you’d be so distracted by the wonder of it all that you’d struggle to get anything done.

 

This capacity to narrow our focus and target only what we need to pursue goals has adapted to support our survival. And it’s a function we use every day when we do our work.

 

Without these neurological adaptations, sitting down to write a single email would be incredibly difficult. You’d get endlessly distracted by the intricate grainy patterns of the wood on your desk, making you say “wow” every few seconds!

 

But the choice to open yourself up to this sense of wonder at opportune moments can be powerful, and it’s central to the practice of savouring. Doing so has priceless benefits for our life satisfaction and health.

 

For example, savouring allows us to replace patterns of negative thought that keep us up at night with positive ones, helping us to get better sleep. It can also help us be more resilient protecting us against symptoms of depression and supporting styles of thinking that help us bounce back from traumatic events.[ii] These and other benefits become particularly salient as we get older.

 

Savouring Emotions

 

In addition to savouring features of the environment, we can also savour positive emotions or internal events. Whereas positive reminiscence and positive visualization are about emotional experiences in the past and future, you might think of savouring as the equivalent for events happening in real-time.

 

Examples include the pride that fills our chest at our child’s graduation or the joy of a good belly-laugh with friends. Interestingly, our psychological response to savouring emotional moments such as these is very similar to those we have in response to the natural environment because our emotions are actually a form of sensory information.

 

In the same way that rays of sunshine or refreshing water feel good on our skin, experiencing love for our children or joy with friends has a sensory component we can feel from the inside out. This is due to the biophysical features of emotions. It’s why laughing at a joke feels better than dissecting its meaning and why hugging a friend you haven’t seen for a while feels better than saying, “I missed you.”

 

This means that putting down our phones, getting out of our heads, and letting our bodies ‘soak up’ life’s positive moments is key for better living.

 

***

Now that we’re stationed squarely in the seat of the present, let’s surrender ourselves to sensory experience and dive in! The next time you go outside, try putting the principles of savouring into action.

 

Instead of focusing on getting to your destination as quickly as possible, slow down. As you do, take in the textures, colours, and lights of the environment surrounding you.

 

Alternatively, see if you can notice the different sounds in the air and distinguish between their volumes and pitches. Keep exploring your surroundings in this way until something captures your interest.

 

Looking to do some emotional savouring too? Try this:

 

  • The next time something good happens, or someone you love makes you smile, pause and notice how good it feels!
  • Try to stay with this positive feeling for 15-30 seconds without letting your mind wander off. Research tells us that by paying attention to positive experiences for longer, we can increase their neurochemical benefits. This includes the release of happiness hormones like dopamine (the “reward hormone”) and oxytocin (the “bonding hormone”).5
  • As you stay with the moment, try taking a few deep breaths, and bring full awareness to the emotional experience and sensations in your body. Does your chest feel warmer? Perhaps you feel lighter?
  • Lastly, try visualizing that the positive experience is sinking deeply into your body and mind. You might imagine you are a sponge, soaking up the joy of the moment, or that a golden light is filling up your chest.

 

By taking savouring seriously, we can train our minds and memories to recognise and steer us toward positive experiences more often. With practice, you may even begin to notice you can ‘dial up’ positive emotions at will, allowing you to gain more out of life’s joyous moments.

 

And why not? There’s no time like the present; you may as well savour it!

MindRazr

 

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