By Mary Reitano
On the Fourth of July holiday, I watched a dad joyfully tossing his children into the water at Lake Lure beach–over and over. They loved it and never tired of it! The kids were savoring this enjoyable experience by totally immersing themselves into it. No wonder children are so full of joy!
Summer brings many things to enjoy—sunny days, outdoor fun and relaxing with family. This is a chance to practice what positive psychology calls savoring, an important life skill which includes:
- Anticipation – enjoyment of an upcoming positive event
- Being in the moment – lengthening, strengthening the present positive experience
- Reminiscing – recalling memories to re-experience and savor positive emotions 1
If you want to thrive and not just survive, seek out positive experiences, emotions and relationships intentionally and appreciate them. Examples include:
- Pleasure from delicious food. A chocolate shop in Asheville has amazing truffles. When I eat one, I let it melt slowly in my mouth to fully appreciate the taste.
- Grateful people often make a conscious effort to focus on good things. Some keep a gratitude journal or sentimental reminders of special days.
- When you have a favorite song, do you listen to it only once? Most of us, as teenagers, replayed favorite songs over and over!
- Does your family have funny stories they repeat every holiday, laughing as if hearing it for the first time? That is savoring.
- I never tire of looking at sunsets—they fill me with awe. What sight does that for you? Take “a mental photograph” by being intensely aware in the moment so that you can enjoy it again later. 2
Your list will include different experiences that nourish your soul. Be open to and expectant of joyous, beautiful, fun, peaceful and pleasurable experiences.
The opposite of savoring is rumination, which is “compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.” 3 Worrying obsessively about problems can poison our spirits. Dwelling on hurts causes us to re-experience pain. Overcoming worry or forgiving a wrong is difficult, but possible. For healing deep hurts, support of a friend, minister or professional counselor may be needed.
Some skeptics say it is unrealistic to focus only on positive things. That is true–there is a time for grief, sadness, or anger. We need to work through negative emotions and issues. We need to acknowledge evil in the world, to protect ourselves and others. But, savoring means we decide to focus on positives, in spite of divorce, cancer, terrorism, and child abuse. When recovering from cancer eleven years ago, I wrote a short article called “Juice! Squeezing the Maximum Joy into Your Life.” I recalled that, when making fresh orange juice, we want to squeeze the very last drop out of the fruit. Likewise, by focusing on positive emotions and experiences, we can deeply appreciate life, regardless of circumstances.
Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate focusing on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health.
1) Bryant, F. B.; Smart, C. M.; King, S. P. (2005). “Using the Past to Enhance the Present: Boosting Happiness Through Positive Reminiscence”. Journal of Happiness Studies 6 (3): 227–260.
2) Stacy Kennelly. Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life website, 10 Steps to Savoring the Good Things in Life. Posted July 23, 2011. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_steps_to_savoring_the_good_things_in_life