Savoring Tiny Moments Enhances and Supports Mental Health and Well-Being: A New Year’s Practice

Hello readers,

I hope that you are having good holiday time with your loved ones. I have been enjoying a lot of cozy time with my family— but truth to be told, more than occasionally amidst the indulgent food, animated family discussions (we all talk too much…), and forays out into the cold (yes we’re trying to live more of an outdoor life with the ongoing pandemic risks…), I’ve been trying to stave off the nagging voice in my head that says: “hey, you have all this time off: get something done!,” Do you know that voice?

Ahhhh time, and our complicated relationship with it! We want to achieve, we want to relax, we want something to show for it—we want it all. My favorite quote that captures the delightful absurdity of the human condition in that respect is: “Man wants to achieve greatness overnight, and he wants to sleep well that night too,”—Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horwitz, The Alter (Elder) of Novardok.  Well, I am not even thinking of achieving greatness, I’d take…something. Anything. Besides laundry. Not to knock laundry. I also want to feel fulfilled and connected with myself, and well-rested. Do the math—99.9% of the time it will not add up.

All these tugs seem especially present during the holidays—and especially especially at New Years. Even though we may be more than eager to say goodbye to some of the challenges of the year that was 2022, the bigger feeling is likely—another year went by already? How? How do I make time… life… everything just s l o w down!?!

The Science of Savoring

There is actually somewhat of an answer to what may feel like a rhetorical question. One power-packed psychological practice that enhances our capacity to feel like time is slowing down, that our lives are bigger—that they are not just flying by, that they are lived. That WE are living them. And that practice is called, “savoring.”

Savoring. Very simple, right? Consider what a difference it makes when we say “mmmmmm” to a bite of a delicious meal, or a sip of perfectly prepared, piping hot coffee. We might miss the enjoyment were it not for the “mmmm.” So it is with life! Savoring is a practice of reflecting back on a past moment or a current one, letting yourself be absorbed in the comfy seat of that experience and saying “mmmmm” to your life.

Psychologists have found that savoring deepens our sense of enjoyment, well-being and bolsters positive moods. For free! Sign me up. With stressed, negative, and anxious thoughts needing no reminders for our attention, savoring sees our positive and pleasant experiences and motions them to come forward.

I’ll get to some powerful practices for multiplying positive experiences through savoring in a second, but first, the way this whole post came about and how I landed on this re-discovering of savoring as a solution and antidote to busyness that I’ve been feeling…was a memory that popped into my mind this morning.

I remembered that when our oldest daughter now a full adult was about three years old she was playing in the living room—not dolls, not blocks, no—she was playing—us. Here she was a very cute three year old with short brown hair, big green eyes, probably in a red outfit (she liked red as a kid, still does) and importantly: wearing my low heeled shoes and I think even carrying my purse (that’s what I’m seeing anyway) running back and forth across the living room and plopping down on the couch with the words that have stayed with me all these decades: “I have so much to do!!!” “I’m so busy!!!” Then she would get up run across the living room, plop down and do it again!! Our three year old would likely not have heard that from watching Madeline and Pepito, The Aristocats, or Mary Poppins. She learned that from watching us.

Fast forward a bunch of years and now our daughter has joined the legions of busy people (aka all of us…) along with me. I’ve learned that the best way to slow down from the busyness even or especially when you don’t have a lot of free time is to savor experiences, people, places or yes even things. What does it mean to savor? I wrote about the science of savoring—yes, there is a science—here’s some paraphrases from my book Freeing Yourself from Anxiety.

Savoring means to stretch, expand, and multiply the impact of a positive experience by re-visiting it. And it may seem like a no brainer, but I’m finding in my own fatigue lately that I need to flex my savoring muscle—to find the “moment” of the day that as William Blake called it “that the devil can not find.” For my own experiences—thinking everyday about my favorite part of the day and either telling my husband as a savoring practice for two or just telling myself started a practice many evenings of reflecting back on our favorite moment of the day. These aren’t big moments usually, in fact they are small. But by looking for it, finding it, and amplifying it. It’s a good practice—on days when “nothing big happens” there’s something you love. A family joke around the table. Looking out the window at a bird making its way tree to tree. A conversation you had with someone doing errands.

We certainly amplify the power of our stressed thoughts, our negative thoughts, our anxious thoughts—without any need for reminders, in contrast, our more positive and pleasant experiences take a seat in the way, way back.  Unless. Unless we see them and intentionally motion to them to come up front. That is the heart of savoring.

How to Practice Savoring

The psychological benefits of savoring—are borrowing ahead and amplifying enjoyment and meaning, we may have a more positive outlook, and because of that feel more of a sense of self-efficacy, feel more grateful, and have better health and well being.

Psychologists Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff have identified three practices to give us the psychological boost of expanding positive emotions and sense of connection with ourselves and others:

Anticipatory: think ahead about an upcoming event—begin imaging the people you will see, what the place may be like, excitement and positive feelings.

In the moment:  Step back from what is happening in front of you—the family dinner, the line at the grocery store, the feel of the crisp cold air outside and just notice it for a second be the observer, not the participant and let your body feel what is going on around you.

Reminiscent: Go back to a positive event from the past and let your mind trace over the moment and experience you enjoyed.

Here are some other ideas:

The daily favorite My husband and I have been working a savoring practice into our dinner conversations—just reminiscing about our day—it’s a way of connecting with each other, but also making our lives feel less of a blur. We tell each other what our favorite part of the day was– no matter how busy we are and have on our after dinner to-do list, I always feel rejuvenated by pausing and reflecting on what sparked our interest during the day.

Let the photo reel choose Often I will share photos with the family that come up in the history and go back into that time—what was that like and exchange reminiscences. It is time travel and a nice exhale all in one.

Savoring may take time, get creative with it! One way I like to think about savoring whether that’s memories from the past, or the moment in front of me—is that my experience at first can feel more like a black and white sketch, or a blank paint by numbers waiting to be filled in– but by savoring, I can fill in the colors, the details, the way things feel or felt emotionally—through our senses too.

Savoring is Good for Your Health and Improves the Quality of Your Relationships

You can savor alone, savor with your family, savor in some jotted down reflections in a journal, but whatever you do—give yourself the gift of savoring. Your life will feel fuller and more satisfying, and by exercising those circuits of connection and enjoyment you will actually be in a better position to create new experiences and memories of greater connection.

It may seem like savoring is a luxury—but it’s not. Our emotional well-being is an essential value for us—the mind and body are intricately coordinated and our emotional well-being helps us stay less stressed and physically healthier. So we do this for ourselves. But savoring—a practice that puts us in a more open, replete, calm state— is also a powerful antidote to the challenges of these last years that left us with remnants of emergency mode and little bandwidth to be present and connected with others. So savoring, the emotional “mmmm” of life—is good for us, and for the greater good, making all of us more available and responsive and empathic to each other. And it feels good, is free, and only takes seconds a day. Doesn’t that sound like a great way to go into the new year?

Will you join me in a savoring practice in the new year? I can feel the mmmmm already, how about you? Happy, healthy new year, readers. Thank you for being here!

©2022 Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D.

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