What Are Your Simple, Underrated Pleasures?

How savoring simple pleasures can help boost your mood.

Posted Mar 18, 2019

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Good mood hygiene involves having recurring pleasurable experiences that you savor. For ages, I've been meaning to write an article on the benefits of having a "schedule of savoring" — a routine of savoring the pleasurable experiences that regularly occur in your life on a daily or weekly basis. Chrissy Teigen sort of beat me to it. She started a Twitter thread in which she asked people their simple, underrated pleasures. Twitter being Twitter there is a lot of noise in the thread, but she also got some excellent responses. For instance:

  • The smell when you open a new can of coffee or jar of peanut butter
  • Taking off your bra at the end of the day
  • A baby putting their head on your shoulder
  • When you press the elevator button, and it’s already there waiting for you
  • Getting into clean sheets
  • Putting on a warm hoodie straight out of the dryer
  • A twice-folded-over potato chip or perfectly ripe avocado
  • A container that's the perfect size for your leftovers

Some of the experiences people offered in the Twitter thread involve chance. They happen irregularly but not infrequently (like the elevator example). Others are every day or every week experiences, like getting into clean sheets. Some involve relief from an aversive experience, like taking off your bra. Signals for pleasant events are another type of moment to anticipate and savor (e.g., the microwave or oven beeping to let you know your food is ready).

Your Personal Schedule of Savoring

Try writing your own list of the experiences you want to savor. Divide them into categories of daily, weekly, and irregular events. The easiest way to start is to think about your daily routines — getting up, meals, leaving work, getting ready for bed, daily tasks, and relationship-related moments, like a loved one's smile. To spark your thinking, these are some examples from my list:

  • Waking up in a very comfortable bed and getting into it at the end of the day
  • Turning off all the house lights in the evening
  • Opening and closing the curtains
  • Washing the last dish in the sink, or putting the last pillowcase back on the pillows after doing laundry
  • Wiping down the kitchen and enjoying the sight of the clean, bare counter
  • Doing anything in a well-organized way (e.g., taking my key off the key hook and putting it back there). Executing any highly efficient routine.
  • Picking up my 3-year-old, feeling her weight, and thinking about how she's growing. The sensation of her soft skin when she reaches for my hand. The sound of her voice. Seeing her eat healthy foods or do imaginative play, etc.
  • When Google Maps says, "Welcome home," as I pull into my driveway
  • Turning the key to open my front door and the safety and relaxation that coming home signals
  • Seeing the title of an article or podcast that's just what I want to read or listen to
  • Feeling the heat or air conditioner kick on in my car

Your weekly experiences might be things like seeing your favorite weekly podcast appear in your podcast app, or waking up on the day of the week that your favorite TV show airs and anticipating getting to watch it later in the day. Ideally, identify one item for each day that's specific to that day of the week. If you don't have these routines, create them!

Tip: Involve All of Your Five Senses

When you create your list, make sure you have included items from all five senses. Look for imbalances, such as you have many items that relate to smells, but few that relate to sounds or touch. Add items that relate to your other senses where you need to correct imbalances. This YouTube series provides some good inspiration and tips for enhancing your savoring of food and drink.

Tip: Limit Relief From Aversive Experiences to 20 Percent of Your List

If you have a tendency towards depression or negativity, another imbalance might be that you have lots of items that relate to relief from aversive experiences (like closing your office door at the end of the day). To force yourself to think more creatively and broadly, limit those to 20 percent of the total items on your list.* 

Tip: Include What Really Gives You Pleasure and Not Just What Makes You Look Good

Your initial lists may be quite stereotypical and reflect relatively universal experiences (Who doesn't like a ripe avocado or clean sheets?), but the more you pay attention to what sparks joy for you as you move through your day, the more you'll be able to add items to your list that reflect your particular interests and routines. For instance, something that gives me pleasure currently is when I hold out with saying "no" to my child about whether she can have an ice cream or other junk food for breakfast, and she eventually stops asking!

How Is Savoring Different From Mindfulness?

Savoring is a little different from mindfulness, but it's related. Mindfulness is about being aware of the experiences you're having regardless of whether they're pleasant or unpleasant. Savoring is about being aware of pleasant experiences. Mindfulness tends to be about not hanging onto experiences, whereas savoring can include briefly hanging onto a current pleasant moment, as well as thinking back to positive memories or thinking ahead to pleasant events you're anticipating.

Make This a Couple, Sibling, or Friendship Activity

Creating your list is a fun activity to do with people you know well. Hearing what other people's simple pleasures are can make you feel closer to them and see yourself as having a deep understanding of them. 

Wrapping Up

Savoring ordinary experiences can help imbue each day with more positive emotion, buffer you against stress, and reduce your cravings for experiences that have a downside (e.g., online shopping, junk food), because you're getting plenty of pleasure hits from other experiences.

*If you have anhedonia, which means nothing feels pleasurable to you, that's a good indicator you may have clinical depression, and you'll likely benefit from professional support to help you bounce back.

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