If you’re like me, reading those words “quick and easy” probably awoke your skeptical self. Perhaps you’re thinking this sounds too good to be true — but in this case, it isn’t. I am utterly sincere. Savoring is quick, and easy, and can provide a valuable boost to anyone’s happiness levels.
To be sure, many personal happiness strategies are challenging. Forgiving ourselves and others, for example, is emotionally daunting and time consuming, as well as ultimately quite rewarding. Another critically important happiness strategy is to quiet the nasty little voice of social comparison in our heads — especially in light of the environmental devastation wrought by consumerism and our sad efforts to keep up with our neighbors. Even though I believe passionately in the need to move to a gross national happiness paradigm, this one is still really tough for me. If I see someone in a colorful sundress or a shiny new Prius, I want, want, want!
So I’m no believer in quick and easy happiness fixes overall. But, here’s a ritual I just started that is working so well I want to let you all in on the secret: everyday at noon, my phone is set to chime. That is my reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and simply savor. I’m only on day five of this new ritual, but each day has provided me with about five minutes of totally mundane magic.
I’ll get back to those magical moments shortly, but first a little background. This new savoring routine is an outgrowth of a much, much more extensive happiness exploration I’m on — a 10-month Certificate in Positive Psychology program through Kripalu. The program includes a series of dynamic online lectures by Tal Ben Shahar. In one lecture, he presented the work of Barbara Frederickson and her Positivity Ratio; basically, when our personal happiness to negativity ratio pushes past 3:1, we are in the golden land of flourishing. To shift our individual positivity ratios, we can add more happiness experiences and moments, and, try to limit the negativity in our lives. Because it’s cumulative, every little bit helps.
Solidifying new happiness habits and discarding negative ways that no longer serve us takes time and determination. In another of Tal’s lectures, he emphasized the difficulty inherent in making long-lasting change in our lives. He suggested we switch our mind-set away from “Self-discipline” and toward “Rituals.” Each of us was encouraged to choose or create very specific happiness rituals, set dates to begin each ritual, and just do it.
Since I’ve loved savoring since I read Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness” in early 2012, it made sense to build a savoring ritual into my life. My husband helped me set my phone alarm on Sunday March 31st, ready to start chiming every day at noon starting on Monday April 1st.
Thank goodness for the assistance of modern technology! When the phone chimed on Monday, I had already forgotten my midday savoring plan! But when I heard the phone, I just stopped and looked around me to see what I could savor. It was amazing. Suddenly, with this very simple intention, I was seeing objects in my living room with fresh vision. Because I’m a painter, and spent many years on the art/craft show circuit, my living room is filled with wonderful pieces of art that I normally barely glance at. On Monday, in savoring mode, I was awed and overwhelmed by their beauty and flat-out wonderfulness. My happiness level soared. Magical.
Tuesday, seemingly the first sunny day in months, the phone chime prompted me to dash out to my deck. I closed my eyes and basked in the warmth and glow of The Sun! Again, a magical happiness boost.
Wednesday, I took time to savor my big country kitchen with its cozy woodstove, perfect for life in Vermont. Then I thought, oh yeah, I live in Vermont!! I looked out the window to savor the view and the very fact of living in this beloved state. You guessed it — more happiness magic.
Thursday was harder. I was in a parking lot when the phone alarm went off. I looked around me at the piles of melting dirty snow. Melting snow! In early April, that is well worth savoring, dirt or no. Ta-da, the happiness boost was there again.
It just makes me grin that every single one of these moments was both magical and totally mundane. That’s why I love savoring — it is an option that is almost always available to us, and it works.
Savoring works in part because it’s so interwoven with gratitude. Often, savoring is also about being mindful, being fully present — ie, taking the time to truly see and appreciate what is in front of us all the time.
But, another beauty of savoring is that it can be focused on the past or the future as well. I just got back from a week visiting my granddaughter for her second birthday, and I am constantly savoring those early morning moments when she came walking quietly up to me in the dark and we hugged and kissed and began our day together. Savoring in the past tense is actually not always easy for me, because I can feel grief at what is gone. Yet I find that if I really focus on reliving the sensations I felt then, the past can once again bring me pleasure.
As for the future, well, no problem there! Here again, modern technology is a reliable assistant. When I have trips planned, I love to visit the websites of places I am going to, and imagine the delights I’ll experience there. This future-savoring is in full swing for me right now, as I will soon be traveling to Kripalu for a week long immersion in the positive psychology program, followed by a week leading a Joyful Creativity Retreat on the beaches of North Carolina.
There is an important caveat about anticipating and savoring the future. Once again, mindfulness is key. I know that I cannot hold too tightly to my idea of what will happen at Kripalu or in North Carolina. There is a delicate dance between anticipation and expectations. I am a big supporter of happy anticipation, as long as one is willing to experience what actually does unfold, whether or not events conform with expectations. So I’m excited about the upcoming trips, and, hoping I can just go with the flow.
When I return, I will have plenty more to savor, in five minute chunks and in the big picture. Especially savor-worthy is the upcoming conference I am helping to plan, “Happiness and Wellbeing: Building a National Movement.” I invite you all to visit the conference website, and start savoring with me!
I also invite you to set your smart phones or other alarms to a time of day when you could take five minutes to savor. If you adopt this ritual, please let me know how it works for you. I hope you also find these moments to be magically happy (but I won’t hold too tightly to any expectations!).