How savouring can boost your wellbeing

by claira miesegaes ~

In today’s climate, as the world responds to its latest challenge, there is need, and indeed time, for self-reflection like never before. As somebody who rarely surrenders to stillness, or practices being present, and whose wellbeing has likely suffered as a result, I now find myself with no excuse but to do just that; an arduously gradual, but empowering exercise.

With a psychology degree already to my name, I recently enrolled on one of Yale’s latest online offerings, The Science of Wellbeing. While I expected to find the content interesting, and perhaps valuable, I did not anticipate such an early change in my own behaviour; because I have learnt to savour, and I want you to too.

A couple of considerations to start…

Firstly, how would you define wellbeing?

If you Google this, you are rewarded with a spectacularly vague explanation along the lines of ‘a healthy and happy state’ or ‘an individual’s condition’, which does not account for wellbeing’s multi-faceted nature. While I suppose that is accurate in its most basic form, I tend to prefer the illustration of wellbeing as a state of equilibrium, that can be impacted by the occurrences in one’s life (Dodge, Daly, Huyton & Sanders, 2012). A true state of wellbeing occurs when an individual is equipped with the sufficient psychological, social and physical resources to be able to cope with psychological, social and physical challenges.  But let’s not get carried away here…

Now consider the ‘headline’ words that you associate with the term. What affects wellbeing? What can alter our state of equilibrium?

Researchers have designed various scales in an attempt to measure wellbeing levels, two most common of which are the PERMA Profiler (2020) and The Authentic Happiness Inventory (2020). These give a better indication of what contributes, or indeed does not contribute, to a person’s wellbeing and, subsequently, what might increase it. There are more traditional factors such as positive relationships, engagement and accomplishment, and then there is savouring.

Savouring is a conscious act of stepping outside of an experience to appreciate it (Emmons, 2007). As human beings, in the fast-paced world in which we live, we often fail to be present and relish what we are experiencing. Savouring intensifies and lengthens the emotions one feels when enjoying a positive experience.

So, the reason for the two earlier questions is this. Savouring can contribute hugely to a person’s state of wellbeing, of equilibrium, yet I believe it is so rarely recognised to do so or practiced (Dodge et al., 2012). Let’s look again at the more commonly discussed factors; positive relationships, engagement and accomplishment. You can establish plentiful, meaningful relationships, you can engage in numerous, wonderful experiences, and you can achieve a wealth of success, but, the effect of these events can be greater when you truly savour them, boosting overall mood (Lyubomirsky, 2007).

The impact of savouring on mood is threefold. Firstly, savouring can thwart hedonic adaptation; we remember what is good in our life. Secondly, it re-focusses the brain so that we remain in the moment; mind wandering is impeded. Finally, it intensifies our gratitude; we are thankful for our experiences (Cai, Richdale, Dissanayake & Uljarević, 2019; Emmons, 2007).

Let’s put this into practice.

Each day for one week, try to savour one experience; a deliciously good book, a sunset walk or an indulgent supper.  While you do this, practice the following techniques known to enhance savouring:

  • share the experience with another person
  • consider how fortunate you are to enjoy that moment
  • photograph the activity
  • be present throughout

Every evening, recall the experience and make a note of what you savoured. At the end of the week, reflect on the experiences, regardless of size, that you have enjoyed and practice gratitude towards them. For those of you who want to see the impact that savouring has on your own wellbeing, try either the PERMA Profiler or The Authentic Happiness Inventory to generate scores before and after this savouring exercise.

Good luck!