I’m reading a book called Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher (available in downtown Northfield at Monkey See Monkey Read). She has a section on “savoring,” described as “the mindful, intentional focus on positive feelings. Quoting a researcher: “If you can’t say, ‘Yes, I was aware of and attended to that pleasure,’ it’s not savoring.”
Whether you’re focused on your ice cream cone or your Nobel Prize, the experience’s beginning and ending offer the best savoring opportunities. Initially, sheer novelty grabs your attention, as do later cues that something is almost finished. Those first and last few bites of cake, rays of light, or days of vacation prompt you to appreciate what you have and then, are about to lose.
I tried to put this in practice on Sunday, the most gorgeous day of spring thus far: 70 degrees, clear skies, no wind, no bugs.
- Left: I took a slow walk around Valley Pond at 5:30 am. The ducks were paddling in the cool morning fog.
- Left center: trimming some tree branches gave us a better view of the pond
- Right center: on the desk at sunset with a bottle of wine, grilled hamburgers, steamed asparagus, luscious tomatoes, raspberries with ice cream.
- Right: a backyard fire
Again, savoring is not just enjoying these experiences, Gallagher says. Savoring required that I stop myself at some point during each of the experiences and make note of the pleasure, either mentally to myself or with Robbie. I can report that it really made a difference.
Some other savoring-related quotes from the book: (continued)
Despite their generally lower socioeconomic status worldwide, women savor more than men. One reason could be that females usually get more encouragement to feel and express emotion than males, who are generally trained to have a stiff-upper-lip, action-oriented approach to life. As Bryant puts it, “Why would a guy bask in pleasure when there’s more work to be done?”
Attending to pleasure is a reward in itself, but savoring also boosts your quotient of positive emotion, which in turn expands your focus and may confer health benefits, such as improved resilience and immune function. During an illness, says Bryant, “you should savor not just for the sheer joy of it, but also to help yourself recover.” Then too, he says, “just because something bad is happening doesn’t mean lots of good things aren’t also. They’re two very different phenomena. The joy and meaning you find in life and the current stressor—an illness, a troubled relative, a career setback—are separate concerns, and you can experience both.”
The best strategy for savoring is learning to pay rapt attention to carefully chosen top-down targets. To practice this skill, Bryant suggests taking a “daily vacation”: spending twenty to thirty minutes focusing on something you enjoy or suspect you might but have never done. Then, at the end of the day, you revisit and relish that pleasurable interlude and plan the next sojourn. After seven days, he says, “most people say, ‘What a great week! I wish I could do that all of the time!’ Well, why not?”