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One Way to Make a Better Day: Start a Savoring Practice

Appreciating the small moments has a big impact on stress.

Key points

  • Savoring, or taking the time to appreciate small moments, can ease stress and boost one's mood.
  • Uncertainty may prompt people to savor more.
  • Deliberately choosing to seek out and enjoy good moments and special things can help reveal more positives.

Do you have 30 seconds to improve your life?

I’ve been thinking about that question since I interviewed social psychologist Fred Bryant in 2011. He's an expert in savoring and told me that within about 30 seconds, the practice could help improve our moods and also prime our brains for positivity.

I put his teachings to the test and added a savoring practice into my daily routine. The habit—which works best when we use it regularly, throughout the day—has helped me manage my anxiety, become more mindful, and really capitalize on joy.

But mostly, it helps me calm down by reminding me that not everything is rotten or falling apart. When I pause to savor something delicious or precious, fun or amazing, I settle into a moment of good feeling. I relax. And that nibble of goodness is often just enough to turn my day around or help me reframe a difficult time.

Difficult times may also prompt us to savor the small things in life as a way of coping, researchers have found.

In one experiment, which I love to imagine, people walking were given flyers. One flyer said, “Life is unpredictable: Stop and smell the roses.”

The other flyer read: “Life is constant: Stop and smell the roses.”

Not far from where the flyers were handed out was a table with a bouquet of red roses on top. The people who read the flyer that said, “Life is unpredictable” were 2.5 times more likely to smell the roses than those who received the other flyer, according to lead researcher Andrew Gregory.

In a related study, more than 6,000 people surveyed said they were more likely to savor and appreciate the small moments of life when the world felt more chaotic.

How Savoring Works

On Saturday, our toilet valve broke, shooting water all over the bathroom and bedroom, soaking the walls and carpet, and dousing the vanity. At the same time, my daughter was spinning into upset over a missed school assignment and I had a project due on deadline. I was feeling frantic. Stressed.

But then I poured myself a cup of coffee, and I sat with it, smelling its aroma, looking at the sheen on its surface, and finally, taking a sip and letting it roll over my tongue. I savored that cup of dark roast and the practice helped diffuse my stress so I could move forward with greater clarity and calm.

That's how it works. By connecting with the immediate joys and pleasures in life, we move away from anxiety and upset.

It takes just a minute or two to practice savoring and the benefits—better relationships, improved health, and well-being, a stronger sense of community—persist long after we’ve moved on with our day.

Ready to tap into this powerful practice? Here are a few ways to do it.

Three Ways to Savor Today

Slow down, tap into all of your senses. This is the approach I take several times throughout the day and it’s the one I used when the toilet exploded. I dealt with the immediate emergency, took a deep breath, and then took a short pause to savor a slow sip of coffee, smelling and tasting and seeing it.

The pause helps us to disengage with the flood of feelings, and savoring enhances the pleasurable experience. When we savor our food, studies show it even makes the food taste better.

Take time to savor today. Slow down, tap into all your senses and allow yourself to fully experience a delicious piece of chocolate or a stunning sunrise and absorb the good feelings that come. They will buoy you all day long.

Anchor the moment by going big. Holler, dance, laugh, celebrate and you’ll enjoy the moment more, according to research. When we physically express our good feelings, those feelings intensify because we are communicating to our brains that we are experiencing something worthwhile.

People who outwardly express their feelings while watching funny videos, for example, tend to enjoy themselves more than people who watch quietly, according to Bryant.

Look for the good. Be deliberate and look for things to savor. When you experience something special, see something beautiful, or enjoy a unique moment, pause to take it in and imprint it in your mind.

When we challenge ourselves to consciously look for good things, we find them along with the happy feelings they inspire. This works for me. Every time.

Bonus points: Go with gratitude. Savoring, the practice of taking time to sink into the good feelings caused by something amazing or beautiful or delicious, cultivates appreciation and then gratitude. Give thanks for the moment. Appreciate it and it will help you to balance the negative things we must endure.

Daylight Savoring Time

I was driving the girls to high school the other day. Everybody was still half asleep. I came around the corner, facing the east, and the sky took my breath away. It was ripe with pink and orange clouds. Sunbeams streaking through. A beautiful sunrise.

I took a couple of deep breaths, just noticing that beautiful sky, breathing it in, then I hollered, “Wow, look at that sunrise. What a wonderful world we live in.”

My teen daughter dropped her head in embarrassment. Her two friends in the backseat started giggling. Then they noticed the sunrise too. One snapped a picture.

The scene, the outburst, the noticing anchored the beautiful moment for me, making it bigger and bolder. It helped me connect with my daughter in a silly way and reminded me about the amazing world we live in. That led to gratitude that I was there, safe and healthy enough to see that sunrise.

The brief moment expanded and I felt good the rest of the day.

Savoring doesn’t eliminate the uncertainty and upset that we encounter in life, but it sure makes it all easier to deal with by reminding us of the good that exists.

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