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How to Be More Present During Good Times

New research explains how to savor life’s happiest moments.

Gemma Tran / Unsplash
Source: Gemma Tran / Unsplash

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences reveals that there is more to self-compassion than meets the eye. While we already know it can help us deal with setbacks adaptively and with dignity, it can also help us appreciate the good times more fully.

The study, led by psychologist Benjamin Schellenberg, adopted Kristin Neff’s definition of self-compassion: a way of treating yourself when you are facing any form of difficulty. This understanding of self-compassion involves three components:

  1. Self-kindness (being nice to yourself).
  2. Mindfulness (keeping a balanced perspective).
  3. Feeling a sense of common humanity (remembering that everyone faces tough times in their lives).

Schellenberg was impressed by the many benefits of self-compassion revealed in previous research, showing that it was associated with greater well-being, a motivation to improve, and even enhanced physical health. “Self-compassion helps people during difficult life experiences,” he said. “We wondered if self-compassion could also affect how people respond to positive life experiences.”

It was this question that led him to study the effect of self-compassion on savoring — that is, the attempt to maintain or augment positive feelings when something good happens.

“There are many different ways people can savor: You can share an experience with a friend, try to stay in the moment, loudly shout and jump for joy, or quietly reflect on the happiness you are experiencing,” explained Schellenberg. “We wondered if people who tended to act with self-compassion during bad times also tended to savor during good times.”

Schellenberg’s research consisted of two studies. The first analyzed the self-compassion and savoring capacity of student-athletes over an academic year and competitive season. The second measured the same characteristics in the fans of a victorious soccer team (specifically, during Chelsea F.C’s winning season in the UEFA Champions League).

The research team found that:

  1. Student-athletes with high self-compassion experienced increases in savoring 2 months later.
  2. Fans who were generally highly self-compassionate were more likely to savor the big win.

“These findings show that the benefits of self-compassion are not limited to difficult times; they extend to the positive side of the human experience,” stated Schellenberg, who speculates that the link between self-compassion and savoring might exist because the people who tend to be self-compassionate may have a better ability to be mindful and present during good times and recognize that they deserve to experience positive experiences to their fullest.

“It’s really important to be nice to yourself,” he concluded. “Being nice to yourself during bad times involves treating yourself with compassion, and being nice to yourself during good times involves savoring and maximizing your positive feelings.”

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