By Elle Harris
Savoring is often associated with the infrequent double scoop of large chunk chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream with thick, hot chocolate sauce in this diet-abundant, sugar-free era, or a beach vacation in a Seattle February. The verb, “to savor” implies action; it is less passive than “to enjoy” or “to feel happy about.” Savoring suggests an intentional engagement of positive emotions to prolong a positive sensation. One source defines it as “the process by which an individual can consciously decide to enhance, increase and prolong the enjoyment of experience” (Watson, 2019, p. 94). Sounds like mindfulness, no? In fact, savoring is perhaps a means to mindfulness, an action required to achieve this state of mind. To this end, savoring is a means to wellbeing in that it tends to buffer vulnerable individuals from depression, promote happiness and psychological health, and attenuate materialism-related low wellbeing.
First, it is suggested that savoring be implemented in treating major depressive disorder (MDD), as the two tend to be inversely related (Ford, Kilbert, Tarantino, & Lamis, 2016). Ford et al. claim that “barriers to remission are associated with a lack of consideration for strength-based factors,” such as savoring (Ford et al., 2016, p. 119). In other words, positive psychology practices such as savoring may lend themselves nicely to management and treatment of depression as they gain familiarity. Fredrickson (2004, p. 1367) explains the broaden-and-build theory, the claim that positive emotions widen one’s “momentary thought-action repertoire: joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savor and integrate, and love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.” In other words, with this increased awareness from positive emotions, “people gain new experiences, greater skills, and stronger social relationships, which in turn promote increased resilience, health, psychological well-being, and relationship satisfaction (Frederickson, as cited in Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 5). Further, “by increasing the frequency, duration, and intensity, of positive feelings” (Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 3), savoring promotes “the discontinuance of negative affective states, most prominently depression” (Ford et al., 2016, p. 120). Ford et al. (2016, p. 120) term this impact of savoring on depression “undoing effects” and suggest that savoring mitigates, or at least moderates, the relationship between negative life events and depression.
Second, the savoring of positive events contributes largely to wellbeing and happiness (Jose, Lim, & Bryant, 2012). In a study of older adults, “among people with less savoring ability, poor health was associated with lower life satisfaction. In contrast, people with greater savoring ability maintained higher life satisfaction, regardless of their level of health” (Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 3). Linking health and life satisfaction, savoring appears to reduce stress and augment optimism (Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 3). Savoring transcends the relationship between poor health and low life satisfaction, and much like the above-mentioned undoing effects, provides another foothold by which wellbeing may be reached for, cultivated, and maintained. Life satisfaction may even contribute to wellbeing by promoting physical health and “decelerat[ing] physical declines” (Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 5).
Last, savoring/mindfulness and materialism appear to be inversely related, suggesting that to be materialistic and generally present in the moment are rather mutually exclusive (Watson, 2019). Hence, given the relationship between savoring/mindfulness and wellbeing, one might infer that materialism detracts from wellbeing. In fact, materialism “has one consistent negative consequence, lower subjective wellbeing, a well-established finding in the materialism literature” (Watson, 2019). Watson (2019) explains what he calls the “hedonic treadmill,” the gradual decrease in pleasure from a positive change and the resulting need to continually re-up this positive change, to derive the same amount of pleasure. In practical terms, one might need to regularly purchase more exciting or expensive items to garner the same baseline satisfaction. Savoring “increases awareness of positive experiences,” thereby extending and intensifying the pleasure of a positive change or purchase and eschewing the treadmill (Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 16).
By and large, it would seem that savoring is a simple means to increased wellbeing, from physical to emotional health, from extenuating stress (Ford et al., 2016,) to “moderat[ing] the effect of increased cancer symptoms on depressed affect” (Smith & Bryant, 2016, p. 6). Particularly important is its effect on physical health as American worldview and current healthcare tends to care for wellbeing in divisive and exclusive sects. However, the positive psychology umbrella, one minute practice under which is savoring, holistically assesses less than satisfactory wellbeing and offers a willing and strengths-based hand.
Ford, J., Klibert, J. J., Tarantino, N., & Lamis, D. A. (2017). Savouring and self-compassion as protective factors for depression. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 33(2), 119-128. doi:10.1002/smi.2687
Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.218
Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 216–239. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512
Jose, P. E., Lim, B. T., & Bryant, F. B. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 176-187. doi:10.1080/17439760.2012.671345
Smith, J. L., & Bryant, F. B. (2016). The benefits of savoring life: Savoring as a moderator of the relationship between health and life satisfaction in older adults. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 84(1), 3-23. doi:10.1177/0091415016669146
Watson, D. C. (2019). Materialism: Temporal balance, mindfulness and savoring. Personality & Individual Differences, 146, 93-98. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.03.034