Self-Care Spotlight: Savoring

Add this gratitude-boosting skill to your repertoire of happiness tools!

Posted Nov 24, 2019

Savoring is a skill that entails paying full attention to a pleasurable sensory experience. By concentrating on the sensations you experience, you amplify your pleasure and activate the body's psychophysiological relaxation response. The benefits of savoring can include an increased sense of well-being and enjoyment in life, reduced depressive symptoms, and greater mindfulness.

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Breathe in and appreciate the little things.
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Savoring is closely related to other forms of attentional honing, such as meditation, and to other positive psychology exercises that increase gratitude. You can apply savoring to any pleasurable moment: a sip of cold water, a bite of fresh food, a warm bubble bath, a hug. The key is to pay attention—to focus on the way this pleasurable moment feels. Be as fully present in your body as you can be, and take a moment to appreciate this soothing, delicious, beautiful, or otherwise pleasurable sensation you are experiencing. Savoring is a way to practice really enjoying the good things in life!

I taught savoring as a clinical tool for at least a decade before it occurred to me to use it as a self-care tool. Practicing savoring improved my attitude so much, I decided to share it with my younger daughter (age 8) and the dozen or so members of our mother-daughter topics group. At a monthly meeting, we talked about savoring as a concept and tried an easy savoring exercise. The girls liked the idea of really noticing and enjoying the way sensations feel, and named several types of experiences they sometimes already savor, including dancing, eating ice cream, and cuddling a favorite soft, stuffed toy.

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Can you focus on appreciating a positive sensory experience as fully as possible?
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For our savoring exercise, I brought Japanese hard candy for us to enjoy. Brightly rainbow-colored, tiny and gorgeous, these candies looked like glass beads. I selected a miniature yellow-and-red-flower candy and reminded everyone, “We want to see how slowly and fully we can enjoy this candy.”

As we each chose a piece of candy from the bag, we all remarked on how beautiful it was. We were already starting to savor the candy simply by taking the time to appreciate its appearance. We looked at our candy closely and luxuriated over its beautiful colors, lingering over its shapes and textures, noticing its details, imagining its creation far away.

We took our time. “Now, close your eyes and place the candy on your tongue—don’t chew it, just suck on it slowly, make it last, taste it completely.” I placed the candy on my tongue. The distinctive, bright flavor of lemon burst forward into my consciousness and I was instantly transported on a ripple of memories of favorite candies from my childhood. I looked around to see that others appeared to be similarly deeply immersed in their sensations, transported by the act of consciously tasting. We spent the next several moments silently, with our eyes closed, allowing the meditation of savoring to overtake us.

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Savoring is a treat for the senses
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As the girls opened their eyes, their exclamations of “Woah!” and “That was amazing!” made it clear they had truly experienced savoring: the amplification of sensation that comes from focusing mindfully on a present pleasure. The moms liked the exercise, too, and noticed that we had vivid, associated memories come up while tasting the candy. Many of us remembered happy times and pleasant taste experiences from long ago. Everyone was smiling. A simple bite of candy had been elevated to a moment of transcendent delight. We emerged from our savoring game lighter, easier, and ready to embrace life's opportunities for pleasure, happiness, and relaxation!

In daily life, almost any positive sensory experience can be savored, including taking a shower or bath, working out, listening to music, petting your dog, or laughing with a friend. You just have to immerse yourself in the experience and allow yourself to really be in that pleasurable moment. For some people, this sort of sensory immersion comes easily, but for many of us it takes some practice.

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Savor the good in life!
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Take advantage of the little pleasures in your day to cultivate your ability to savor. Don’t miss out on the best self-care tools you give your patients and clients: You too can experience the benefits of taking care of yourself! Remember, self-care requires doing things to take care of yourself: reading about savoring is good, but savoring a sensory experience in real life is better. Notice and appreciate what smells good, tastes good, feels good to your skin. Lingering on and immersing ourselves in these sensations amplifies our enjoyment. And it does more than making us feel good in the moment: it soothes our jangled endocrine systems and orients our minds toward the positive, preparing us to be more resilient, focused, and compassionate. The benefits to ourselves and the people depending on us are manifold, so you have good reason to consciously cultivate opportunities to savor pleasurable sensory experiences in your life. Enjoy!

You’re worth real self-care. For another version of this exercise, see my Savoring video at tinyurl.com/bradburytoolkit