"The sheer speed of modern life and our extreme future-mindedness can sneak up on us and impoverish our present."
Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness is a book trying to help us solve our own problems with happiness. How to define it, how to find gratification rather than pleasure, and how to work on our strengths rather than focus on our weaknesses. One section I was drawn too was Seligman's discussion of savouring.
A favoured technique by Buddhist monks and the mindfulness community, savouring brings our mind to the present as we completely focus on what we are doing while trying to extend the pleasure we feel as long as possible.
What can savouring do for us on a regular day?
Seligman is quick to point out that savouring is an extension of pleasure which by definition is going to lead us to long-term happiness. And yet, by focusing on savouring we can extend pleasure and set in mind memories we can look back on fondly. How many times have you had a pleasurable experience only to lose that feeling within minutes?
Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff of Loyola University have founded the field of study surrounding savouring. They define it as: "the awareness of pleasure and of the deliberate conscious attention to the experience of pleasure." It's not just about having a pleasurable experience, it's about extending that pleasurable experience so that it becomes something we remember and can hold on to into the future. Imagine not just remembering that last amazing meal at a superficial level but being able to recall everything about the moment.
So how do we savour?
Bryant and Veroff, having studied thousands of undergraduate students, came up with the following five tools that anyone can immediately implement into their daily routine.
1. Memory-Building - this involves really focusing on the effort of memory building. Thinking about everything going on in that moment including where you are, who you are with. Seligman notes the idea of mental photographs to try and capture as much as you can to your memory. Taking a small souvenir can also help. You went to that amazing restaurant and grabbed a pair of matches or a cocktail napkin as a reminder. Thinking about that memory and that napkin together can help to sync the two together for future use.
2. Self-Congratulations - Has something amazing happened to you? Did you achieve something remarkable or did you splurge and buy a new camera? Self-congratulations involve going further than just being in the moment; it forces you to think about the moment and how impressed you are. If it was an achievement at work, take pride in knowing that others are thinking highly of you based on your accomplishments. That new camera? Take pride in the fact that you worked hard to be able to afford this and it's worth celebrating.
3. Sharpening Perceptions - This involves examining the situation you are in and looking to your other perceptions to help solidify the moment. Enjoying an amazing piece of chocolate? Now's the time to look closely at it and see how it was made; what does it smell like before you take a bite and what about afterwards? What else is going on in the moment; are you with someone, and if so, what are they saying? What type of music are you listening. Of course, once you've tasted the chocolate you want to examine the sensations. What about the piece of chocolate do you like? The texture of the chocolate is smooth milk chocolate with small bits of coconut. The coconut tastes like it might be roasted; crunchy. A nice contrast to the smoothness of the chocolate. That chocolate tastes like something else ... what is it? Something you've had before?
Every moment becomes an opportunity to really investigate!
4. Sharing With Others - Did you just finish an amazing book that you are still thinking about? Why not share that moment with others and tell them how much you valued that experience? Seligman notes that sharing events and experiences with others is actually the single strongest predictor of the level of pleasure. So make sure you tell someone!
As an aside, and a rabbit hole, I wonder how this study relates to social media today? Everyone is sharing, are we all experiencing the greatest of pleasure?
5. Absorption - Similar to memory-building, absorption is the attempt to get totally immersed in the experience. I liken to this to a flow state where you focus on nothing else at that moment or in mindfulness where you have those moments where nothing else enters your mind and the breath is all you are thinking about. Total absorption. That chocolate? Try to think of nothing else. How about the sunrise you are watching; take it all in and allow yourself to focus only on the moment and experience. This type of total absorption will help to build the memory and again really help you to capture that moment of pleasure you are experiencing.
What do you think about this idea of pleasure and trying to extend it as long as possible? Have you found yourself savouring without realizing it? Let me know in the comments.