It pleases me no end that savoring — just taking the time to smell the roses and truly enjoy life’s pleasures — is a scientifically proven strategy for raising our personal happiness levels. How cool is that?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Science? Really? What science?” Fair enough. I have zero scientific expertise. Instead, let me offer up the Mayo Clinic.
In an article entitled, “How To Be Happy: Tips For Cultivating Contentment,” the Clinic cautions that being happy takes “practice, practice, practice.” They offer multiple options for “choices, thoughts and actions” to get happier, including savoring:
“Don’t postpone joy waiting for a day when your life is less busy or less stressful. That day may never come. Instead, look for opportunities to savor the small pleasures of everyday life. Focus on the positives in the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.”
Since becoming mindful of savoring, I’ve noticed that it is almost always an option, regardless of immediate circumstances and surroundings. This makes it a particularly helpful tool. In crabby-making situations, if I remember to look around and drink in whatever beauty or joy is at hand, I can get an immediate happiness boost. As I write, I can pause to more deeply appreciate the Ravi Shankar music playing on Pandora or to breathe in the aroma from a pine scented candle just to my right. No big deal — it just takes intention and attention.
Of course, what and how you savor will likely be quite different from my choices. My scented candle would give some of my friends a headache. To me, that’s part of the attraction of happiness-building activities — they are based on science, but you can choose strategies that most appeal to you and apply them in your own unique way.
Another lovely aspect of savoring is that it need not be restricted to the present; you can also relish past memories and anticipate future pleasures. Thus, as Sonya Lyubomirsky observes, “when you master this strategy, you ‘will always have Paris.'”
Lyubomirsky lists savoring as “Happiness Activity No. 9” (out of 12) in The How of Happiness which I listened to last March while driving from Vermont to Alabama for the birth of my granddaughter. I think I’ll always remember how much I was able to savor the beauty of a perfectly ordinary rest stop in Virgina that day. The clouds and the wildflowers were so normal, and so sublime. Drinking in the beauty that surrounded me filled me with gratitude.
Since Madeleine was born and moved in with us, I have had countless opportunities for savoring. However, when I interviewed environmental activist Kathryn Blume for an article in Vermont Woman, she suggested I might also observe how the baby herself provides a case study for human happiness.
For example, one day I headed up the stairs to her room. Knowing how pleased she would be to see grandma, I made lots of noises to give her plenty of time to anticipate my arrival. When she finally saw me, she squealed and jumped with pleasure. It was quite amusing! I come in her room to greet her almost every day, but building in the anticipatory savoring made the experience so much sweeter for her, and me.
She has no problem savoring the ordinary. Ordinary, extraordinary — it’s all the same to her. One of her favorite toys right now is an old jewelry box. It’s just decorated cardboard, but really — how charming is the silky lining, how solid it feels in the hand, and what an ingenious opening mechanism! Madeleine reminds me daily that savoring opportunities abound.
Now that the holiday decorations are up, we have a special set of objects and experiences to savor. Through Madeleine’s eyes I have learned that the snow in the Santa Snow Globe is actually teal, that the Santa wine bottle cover has bells that ring (and a beard that can be pulled off), and that the little blue ceramic Santa has a bell that can almost always coax a baby smile. I’ve always loved Christmas lights, but I don’t know how much I actually savored them. Now, following Madeleine’s lead, I take the time to hold her as we both gaze and savor the amazing reality of colored lights. Wow! How glorious!
And of course, I keep savoring her, storing up these precious memories — so I’ll “always have Paris.”
A Serendipitous Note
Gratitude is another one of my favorite happiness tools, and this morning I was reminded of a person to whom I owe much gratitude: Dr. Lynn Johnson, who introduced me to the importance of savoring. In November 2010, I took a daylong seminar from him (“Happiness: How Positive Psychology Changes Our Lives”) and later read his book, Enjoy Life. Today I received a link to his own blog also on savoring. Naturally, Dr. Johnson’s take is very different from mine (warning: it may make you hungry). Between his words and mine, perhaps you’ll have a whole new approach toward smelling roses, literally and metaphorically.