Humans typically have three times as many positive experiences as negative in their lifetime — but we are hardwired to focus on the bad ones. According to psychologists, one technique can reverse this glass-half-empty approach and enhance happiness: Savoring.
“Savoring isn’t an emotion, like happiness or enjoyment. Rather, it’s a process that can be used to regulate our positive feelings,” Jennifer Smith, a psychologist and director of research at the Mather Institute, tells Inverse.
Researchers like Smith describe savoring as an emotion regulation technique that aims to increase, sustain, and deepen positive emotion.
“Savoring is the ability to be aware of positive experiences in our lives and to intentionally engage in thoughts and behaviors to enhance our enjoyment and other positive feelings,” Smith adds.
The idea is that pausing to savor a moment of joy can elevate our sense of well-being. Data suggests the practice may help alleviate depression, boost self-esteem, and increase life satisfaction.
Want to make the good times last longer? Savoring is the key.
The concept of savoring in social psychology dates to 1980, when a social psychologist named Fred Bryant began to question some of the dominant scientific consensuses about human emotions.
He defines savoring as the capacity to “attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences in one’s life.”
At the time, psychologists generally maintained that when bad things happen, people don’t always feel equally sad, stressed, or angry in response. Instead, it was a matter of perspective. Some people feel severely distressed while others cope quite well with the same event. But on the flip side, psychologists generally assumed people felt similar levels of happiness and joy when positive things happened.
Bryant had a hunch that both the bad and the good could elicit distinct responses in different people. Some people are better at feeling joy in the moment, he believed, while others let it slip by.
Bryant used savoring to describe the propensity to upregulate positive emotions. Over the next three decades, he and other researchers have studied the tendency’s effects on feelings of depression and anxiety, life satisfaction, and well-being.
“Not only can savoring increase our awareness of positive experiences, it can also increase the duration and intensity of positive feelings that arise from those experiences,” Smith, a long-time collaborator with Bryant, explains.
Savoring to combat stress
It’s hard to enjoy every moment when you are stressed about something. But while stress can make savoring feel impossible, research suggests that overcoming difficulties in life may ultimately enhance people’s ability to savor and appreciate the good moments, Smith explains.
“Acute stress may interfere with people’s ability to savor positive experiences, especially if they are too overwhelmed to be able to shift their attention away from the stressful experience,” she says.
Savoring’s side effects — Savoring goes beyond improving mood at the moment. Building off psychologist Barbara Friedrickson’s “broaden and build” theory, savoring can set off an upward spiral of behavioral shifts that contribute to long-term happiness. The practice can lead to more expansive patterns of thought and a greater willingness to participate in new experiences.
“The capacity to savor in emotionally intelligent ways is a hallmark of the happy mind,” Bryant and Smith write in one paper.
Positive emotions encourage people to explore, be creative, and generally engage in a wider range of thoughts and behaviors, Smith explains. Not to mention more positive emotions mean fewer negative ones, which can contribute to chronic stress and its related cascade of harmful health effects like hypertension and metabolic syndrome.
“People try new things, develop skills, and form relationships, which ultimately contribute to greater psychological well-being, health, and resilience,” Smith says.
Ultimately, savoring is an essential tool to enhance happiness — and make it last longer. Shifting your outlook to relish the positive may just transform your life as a whole.
Four Savoring Strategies
Here are four hacks to help you savor the good things, according to social psychologists:
4. Walk it out
When Smith is stressed or down, the researcher goes on a “savoring walk.” During the walk, you make a commitment to leave any problems behind and focus on noticing as many good things as you can, Smith explains. Every time you notice something positive, such as flowers starting to bloom or dogs passing by, think about what it is that you enjoy about it.
3. Share the good
When we participate in positive experiences with others, such as taking a trip or going to a restaurant, others may notice and appreciate details about the experience that we may have missed on our own, Smith says. Seeing other people’s happiness and enjoyment can increase our own positive feelings. When we tell others about good news or positive events from our past, we have an opportunity to reminisce about those experiences and the responses of others can amplify our positive feelings.
2. Hone your sensory perception
This strategy comes down to attention, Smith explains. Focus on each of your senses — hearing, taste, smell, touch, and sight — one at a time to notice specific details of a positive experience. For example, you might close your eyes to block out distractions so that you could better concentrate on the taste of new food, the researcher suggests.
1. Build a memory
One way to make good times last is to mentally record details of the experience through journaling or by taking photos or mental snapshots. Zero in on the details that are most meaningful or enjoyable, and try to save them for later reflection.