The past couple of years have invited us to re-evaluate our priorities, and the most frequent statement I've heard people make is that they'd like to enjoy life more. Collectively, we are tired of the 9-5 rat race - we want to enjoy our families, nature and life in general and in a more meaningful way.
While we still may have to dedicate a certain amount of time to income-generating activities, Positive Psychology has a really wonderful practice called savoring that's designed to help us extend the sweetness of our best moments.
The savoring intervention was in heavy rotation in both my Positive Psychology courses at UPenn and in my Science of Wellbeing course at Yale, as research has found that the act of savoring is what increases happiness, not the actual event itself.
For instance, say you're in the mood for some ice cream and decide to get a sundae. You drive to the ice cream shop, order a scoop each of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, top it with hot fudge, butterscotch, nuts, sprinkles, bananas, extra whipped cream and cherries - just the way you like it. It's served in a thick, old-fashioned glass dish.
You sit down in the booth but before you take the first bite, you start scrolling through your phone, becoming immersed in your news feed - a friend's recent vacation, political rant, new puppy...and on and on. Before you know it, your spoon is scraping against an empty dish. You've just had an ice cream sundae, but chances are that you didn't actually experience or enjoy it, let alone savor it.
Now imagine that you have your sundae in hand and sit down in a booth the color of fresh pine needles. You set your heavy glass dish on the well-worn laminate tabletop and run your fingers over the wooden grooves of the windowsill where people who sat in this spot before you carved names, years and initials memorializing birthdays, anniversaries, friendships and road trips. Some of the inscriptions make you smile and you wonder if Eric and Jessie are living a happily ever after somewhere with a house full of dogs and kids. The sweet confectionery smells of the shop surround you, looking down at your sundae you admire the perfect spirals of whipped cream and the bright smattering of sprinkles. No cell phone in sight, you take the first bite, letting the tastes, temperatures and textures melt together in your mouth in a perfectly scrumptious moment.
You had an ice cream sundae in both scenarios, but the second scenario will likely be much more memorable as you were actively involving all of your senses and your powers of observation and perception to truly be present in the moment.
Here are some savoring tips that work best for me:
1. Enhance the pleasurable aspects of the moment. Once you've identified that this is a moment you'd like to savor, shift your focus to enhance what's making you feel good about it. Last month, my son found a strip of my fake eyelashes and put them on, knocked on his sister's door and pretended to be me. Within seconds, they were both doubled over with laughter. I knew that I wanted to remember the sound of my teenagers laughing together so I dropped the mail I was carrying, closed my eyes and focused my energy solely on listening to their voices laughing uncontrollably.
2. Take a mental snapshot. Drink in every possible detail of the moment you're savoring. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel and where do you feel it in your body? One evening, I took my kids to the beach. My daughter was sitting next to me doing her homework, my son was surfing. As the sun faded, our eastern sky turned cotton candy pastel which cast a pearly glow over the water and sand. It was peace and perfection personified. I put my book down and mentally tried to capture as much as I could - the white tassels of my daughter's towel, her long hair dancing in the wind, the vibrant red of my son's surfboard on the shore, the silhouette of his lanky teen body against the soft pink sky, the lull of rolling waves. I actively tried to observe and record each detail of this moment and it's a memory that I return to often.
3. Find gratitude. Gratitude is the quickest shortcut to happiness. One of the most accessible, fastest and easiest ways to create new neural synapse connections is to consciously start focusing your attention on positive thoughts, experiences and situations. Research has proven that spending just 3-5 minutes per day in gratitude can significantly increase feelings of happiness, joy and contentment as well as help to rewire the brain. Actively find and express gratitude for what you're experiencing - maybe it's the beautiful colors of the sky or the laughter of someone you love, maybe it's gratitude for your ability to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. When we incorporate gratitude, the moment automatically becomes deeper and more meaningful.
Of course, we can support savoring on an even deeper level with PSYCH-K®. By installing new "savoring" programs, our subconscious runs them automatically, which takes a lot of the conscious work out of the equation so that we can experience the beauty in our lives and in the world around us in a naturally organic way time after time.
Many of us already have a savoring practice and don't even realized that it's one of the most frequently-prescribed interventions in Positive Psychology!
What are your favorite ways to make the sweet moments last?
Do you have the capacity to receive AND hold on to what you think you want?
Let’s try it – how does it feel in your body to imagine inviting a loving, healthy relationship into your life?
Where do you feel this in your body? What sensations do you feel when you imagine this? How does it feel – expansive or constricting? Do you feel a sense of lightness at the prospect of sharing your life with a supportive partner, or does the thought of this agitate you because your nervous system is used to chaotic relationships? Did you have to self-soothe as a child so now the thought of living with someone else makes you anxious because you are truly most comfortable alone?
Tomorrow marks the Fall Equinox and signifies one of two days out of the year (the other being the Spring or 'Vernal' Equinox) when day and night are almost exactly equal lengths and the entire planet is most in balance.
Taking our queue from Nature's rhythms, this week is the optimal time to examine balance in our lives.