Everyone loves a good pie chart, right? (I’d prefer a pecan pie over a pie made with math and numbers, but at least this pie chart will help you enjoy your life… almost as much as a pecan pie would.)
What is savoring?
Savoring is defined as the act of grabbing onto and wringing every ounce of joy out of the positive emotional experiences that come our way.Researchers tell us that savoring is associated with a boosted sense of well-being, increased engagement, meaning, positive emotions, and gratitude (coincidentally, all things associated with pecan pie).
Because we are not house pets who seem to pleasantly live in the midst of each and every moment, we have the ability to savor across three temporal forms, or moments in time: we can anticipate a positive event, we can savor in the moment to get the most out of a positive experience, and we can reminisce about a previous event to spark and savor the great memories all over again.
That, my friend, is what the pie chart is all about.
The Past (20%):
This is the official walk down memory lane, where we savor old memories, photos, journal entries, baby books, love letters, client testimonials, stories of that time you laughed so hard you peed, recollections of the good old days.
Reminiscing, the act of reflecting back on retrospective events, has been positively associated with our perceived ability to enjoy life (according to researchers). Vividly recalling the details of a favorable memory has been proven to have an impactful association with happiness, meaning that we can create positive emotions and subjective well-being by consciously inducing a detailed “remember when” game in our heads.
What can you do to spend about 20% of your discretionary thinking time reflecting on great times from the past?
The Future (30%):
We’ve already talked about the magical powers of anticipation together here, so you know that anticipation is more emotionally intense than retrospection (which is why I recommend we live in the land of the future 30% of the time, and re-live the rosy-hued past about 20% of the time).
We pre-savor the future when we anticipate things like vacations (staycations count, too!), red hot flaming dates, birthday parties, how we’ll look in our jeans when we lose 17 lbs., the taste of Grandma’s gravy at Thanksgiving, our hard-earned successes, our dreams coming true.
Pre-savoring often requires planning — which might not align with your spontaneous soul — but is worth considering if you want to wring the most out of life. Shellie, a participant in one of my recent workshops, shared how her excitement for an upcoming trip to Montreal increases in direct proportion to each reservation she makes and piece of research she does. Earmarking where to get the best poutine in the city, for example, ratcheted up her giddiness to make the trip. (Is it weird that I got excited anticipating her poutine mission, too?)
What can you do to spend about 30% of your discretionary thinking time planning and pre-savoring fun and meaningful times ahead?
The Now (50%):
This half of the pie is about savoring the moment we’re in, and it’s as challenging as eating just one potato chip. Most of us by now have Googled “what is mindfulness and how do I become even 1% more mindful in my life because I’m never really living in the moment,” so we know that being mindful includes activating your senses, pausing, and actively appreciating The Now.
Savoring the moment is about noticing how your first sip of coffee tastes in the morning… taking a deep breath to smell the forest… observing your kids’ comments and laughter at the dinner table… paying attention to how your body feels while stretching after a workout… listening closely to the sounds your dog makes as he sleeps… being deliberately grateful for the pleasant experience you’re in the midst of.
Studies reveal that positive affect is increased when we direct our attention while in the midst of positive moments, and that our sense of life satisfaction is enhanced when we tell others about our positive experience. Conversely, we diminish our positive affect with the dampening behavior of being distracted while in the moment, and we reduce our satisfaction with life when we engage in negative rumination. Savoring is like a lifeline you can throw yourself when you’ve been sucked into a negative spiral vortex.
What can you do to spend about 50% of your discretionary thinking time savoring the moment you are in? Mindfulness experts would love us to spend more than 50% of our time here, but as a realist I know that it’s a good day if I’m even approaching half of my mental energy in the here and now.
Mix + match your savoring styles
Research also shows that variety is the spice of life when it comes to savoring; study participants that employed a wide range of savoring strategies were happiest according to self-reports. Increasing not only the style of savoring strategies we use, but also the frequency with which we participate in positive reminiscence through vivid, cognitive imagery has been associated with higher levels of happiness. It appears as though variety and frequency are factors we can play with to enhance our well-being.
So how do we mix and match the ways we savor?
Solo vs. social savoring: there’s a time and place to delight in something special alone, and there are times when it feels right to share your fabulous moment with your 30,000 closest internet friends. If you’re always a solo-savorer, try to include others for a change. If you’re a raging extrovert who social-savors all over town, try to savor important moments alone now and then.
Journal your thoughts to capture the essence of a positive moment as it’s happening — in vivid detail. Paying attention to and noting the intricate details will help you notice more of what’s going on, and in the future when you re-read your notes, it’ll act as a more powerful reminder of what really went down. (E.g.: “ate at that cool roadside diner” gets you a B-, whereas “ate the spiciest enchiladas of my life at that cool diner with the neon sign, right off the highway… where the server tried to persuade us to eat a ghost pepper” gets an A+.)
Plan a “Flashback Date”: the savoring double-whammy of The Past and The Present! Book a date with your partner to re-live a big day (like a wedding or a special occasion photos and stories), or plan an evening with friends to reminisce over a fun time (where everyone shares favorite photos and anecdotes of the Crazy Cancun Trip of 2002, for example). I’ve worked with leadership teams to have “Highlight Meetings” where they plan ahead for a specific time time to reflect on successes, near-misses, and laughs that took place over the last year. Flashback Dates mean you get to look forward to the planned walk down memory lane, and you get to post-savor a positive time and feel the fun all over again.
You might have noticed that savoring the past, present, and future are mental tricks that are free and relatively easy to do. Waiting in line at the DMV? Look at amusing photos on your phone for a quick smile. Feeling blah and bored? Plan a dinner party and look forward to making that new crab dip recipe. Want a quick like-your-life hit? Stop and really immerse yourself in a good time, as it’s happening. Tune into all the sounds and tastes and feelings and thoughts and views.
And if savoring the past, present, and future doesn’t elevate your life satisfaction in the slightest, come on over for a piece of pecan pie.
Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!