Savoring happiness and prolonging positive experiences is key to enjoying life.
Over the years, we humans have developed a unique skill; unique and, quite frankly, a little annoying.
It’s called hedonic adaptation or the “hedonic treadmill.”
Basically, it’s our ability to get over things quickly. You get a promotion, celebrate, then return to baseline happiness. You have the best night of your life on a Friday night and by Monday it’s a distant memory.
Even people who win the lottery quickly return to their original levels of happiness shortly after the novelty of winning has worn off.
Admittedly, this adaptation works both ways. It also allows us to move past tragic events, like an accident or losing a loved one.
However, for most of us, moving past positive experiences is much easier and happens much faster; thanks, evolution.
This is where the skill of savoring comes in handy.
Savory and Sweet
We often think of savoring in regards to food; chewing that last bite of cake as slowly as we can to get the most pleasure possible.
Or savoring a beautiful view, like a sunset on top of a mountaintop.
In reality, savoring can be applied to almost any type of positive experience. It’s a way to counteract our hedonic adaptation, allowing us to hang on to positive emotions for longer.
Savoring is the act of recognizing, appreciating, and prolonging a positive experience.
When we actively savor an experience it prolongs positive emotions and adds meaning and purpose to our lives; all of which are directly related to our happiness.
Before we dive into how to savor positive experiences, let’s take a look at which experiences we should focus on.
The Big 7
Psychologist Maggie Pitts conducted a study in 2018 looking at what experiences humans tend to naturally savor.
Her work focused on experiences and interactions that are relatively common in society; so no lottery winners here.
Here are the 7 types of experiences and interactions that her participants savored the most:
- Aesthetic Communication: This includes intelligent or witty conversation, an inspiring speech, or a very clever joke.
- Communication Presence: These are focused and honest conversations. The kind where nothing else seems to matter and there are no distractions.
- Nonverbal Communication: Meaningful hugs, handshakes, even simple eye contact and smiles were heavily savored by the participants.
- Recognition and Acknowledgment: Any experience where we receive appreciation and acknowledgment. Think graduations, award ceremonies, and other rights of passage.
- Relational communication: These are deep conversations that lead to insights. A young couple discussing their future, or sharing a secret with a friend that brings you closer together.
- Landmark Events: Major life events like weddings, childbirth, doing something for the first time, or surviving a major illness/accident.
- Implicitly Shared Experiences: Participants reported savoring experiences of unspoken communication. Like the excitement of a crowd at a music concert or rally, or when you look at someone and you both know you are thinking the exact same thing.
Some of these aren’t that surprising; hopefully you would savor your wedding or your college graduation.
But what this list shows us is that a lot of our everyday experiences can have a major impact on us. Hugging a friend, smiling at a stranger, having an undistracted conversation; these are moments to be savored.
So, how do we improve our ability to savor these experiences in order to be happier and more satisfied with our lives?
Mindfulness and Reflection
First up is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the secret sauce in regards to savoring experiences and feeling happiness long after an experience has passed.
It trains us to be completely in the moment, without distraction, absorbing the positive emotions as much as possible.
Mindfulness also teaches us to slow down and fully experience the sensations and happenings around us.
If you look back at the Big 7 you can immediately see how being present can have a massive impact on your experiences.
The best way to be mindful is to train your brain. We have a variety of mindfulness articles and exercises available for free right here.
As far as reflection goes, the trick here is to record your experiences so you can revisit them.
Journaling works best and really allows you to cherish and savor the details of every experience. This way you can revisit your experience whenever you want and get a dose of the positive emotions you felt.
Sharing your story through word-of-mouth is also a great way to re-live your good times and get a dose of positivity.
Another excellent way to reflect is through meditation.
Often times we think of meditation as just sitting, breathing, and clearing your mind. But meditation is a multi-faceted tool.
We’ve created a guided meditation specifically for reflecting on positive experiences, available right here.