A Simple Way to Overcome Negativity

The powerful effects of savoring.

Posted May 18, 2018

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

A wild rosebush bloomed in my yard this week. The bush had sprung up unexpectedly and blooms only once a year—each time a beautiful surprise. Today, while I was doing my garden chores, the delicate blossoms stopped me in my tracks. I paused in wonder and amazement. What was I experiencing? Savoring.

Savoring, according to Loyola University psychologist Fred Bryant, is focusing on the good and beautiful in our lives. It includes increasing our enjoyment of current positive experiences, anticipating future positive experiences, or recalling past positive experiences.  His research has shown that savoring can improve our health by decreasing anxiety, rumination, guilt, and shame while increasing happiness and optimism (Bryant, 1989; 2003).

But most of the time, instead of focusing on the good in our lives, we focus on the negative. Psychologists call this the “negativity bias” (Rozin, & Royzman, 2001). This bias helped our ancestors survive when a sudden noise or movement meant a prey animal might be stalking them. They immediately froze, fled, or fought to save their lives. If they saw a twisted branch in the path ahead, they jumped aside--better to avoid a harmless branch than be bitten by a venomous snake. And so in daily life, we unconsciously scan for threats, reacting to anything out of the ordinary. Yet in today’s world of continual change, the negativity bias can keep us on constant alert, filling our minds with fear and anxiety, undermining our health with chronic worry and a dark, foreboding view of the world.

Savoring breaks through negativity, helping to relieve stress. It brings us what psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has called the “broaden and build” effect of positive emotions, broadening our perspective and building our resources, transforming our lives and enabling us to flourish (Fredrickson, 2001).

Even in the midst of problems, savoring can help us cope. University of Washington psychologists Daniel Hurley and Paul Kwon have found that people with very few positive events in their lives can increase their well-being by savoring. They recommend it as a valuable practice for all of us when we’re going through hard times (Hurley & Kwon, 2013).

What about you? Will you take a few moments to savor the beauty in your world today?

References

Bryant, F. B. (1989). A Four-factor model of perceived control: Avoiding, Coping, Obtaining, and Savoring. Journal of Personality, 57, 773-797.

Bryant, F. B. (2003). Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savoring. Journal of Mental Health, 12, 175-196.

Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Hurley, D. B., & Kwon, P. (2013). Savoring helps most when you have little: Interaction between savoring the moment and uplifts on positive affect and satisfaction with life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 1261-1271.

Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 296-320.