Savor. It’s a word we tend to use about food. “He savored the chocolate ice cream.” Or about an experience. “She savored her free day.” We know what it means, slowing down and paying attention to the eating of the ice cream, or paying attention to the freedom of not being scheduled.
Do you savor your life? According to the research by Jennifer L. Smith at the Mather Lifeways Institute of Aging, savoring is an essential element in life satisfaction no matter what limitations might exist due to physical health.
Savoring is defined as “the ability to regulate positive feelings by attending to, appreciating and enhancing positive experiences.”
She surveyed 266 older adults ranging in age from 55-94, 42% were married, 78% female and 72% European American. The subjects volunteered for the study. Each subject took the “Savoring Beliefs Inventory,” the RAND 36-item Health Survey, and answered the question, “Thinking about your own life and personal circumstances, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”
What she found was that among older adults with lower savoring abilities, poor health decreased their satisfaction with life. However, those with high savoring abilities reported high satisfaction with life regardless of their health. Isn’t that interesting? So what makes a difference is paying attention to, appreciating and enhancing positive experiences?
This fits with other research that explores happiness. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist wrote “Hardwiring Happiness: The Practical Science of Reshaping Your Brain and Your Life.” He also has a TEDtalk.
Dr. Hanson describes how we humans have a built-in filter to pay attention to bad things and to not notice good things. He says this is our negativity bias and that once upon a time it served a good purpose. It wasn’t so long ago in our evolution that we needed to remember the bad so that we could stay safe and alive. Hence, we have the negativity bias, where “good things bounce off, but bad things sink in.” Sound familiar? We’ve all done it. Ever had a performance review where ten great things are said but you remember the one criticism? Or a day full of good work but what you talk about is the moment of irritation. In fact, there is no story without the negative. Look at the “news.” It’s rare to have a paper full of stories about good things happening. They just aren’t that interesting.
How about the negativity of “I could never live with another person.” Or “No one could live with me.” Or “I don’t want to live with a stranger.” These thoughts get in the way of someone making a choice to explore shared housing. Hanson says that in order to overcome negativity bias you have to have five good things to one negative. This is a guideline for marriages if they want to survive. I bet it is also true for home-mates. It’s one of the reasons that we have lots of interviews of people who are happily living in shared housing. We hope to help readers overcome their negativity bias.
There is a fix. You can learn to savor experiences and overcome negativity bias. The neuroscientists have found that “neurons that fire together, wire together” meaning that mental activity can change brain structure. You can learn to take in the good and reshape your brain.
The fix is simple to describe. How it impacts you will depend on how faithfully you do the process. You can do it on your own. It takes time and attention. Dr. Hanson uses the acronym HEAL to help remember it.
The first step is to Have a good experience. It doesn’t need to be a big one. Smiling at someone at the store and having them smile back is a good experience.
The next step is to Enrich the experience. This means taking it in, dwelling on it for at least five to ten seconds or more. In taking it in, let the good feeling grow in intensity, remember it through all your senses.
This helps install the good experience so that you can do that third step of Absorbing it. This is simply letting the good thing sink into you. The last step is optional.
The Link step is to take the feelings of the positive experience and hold a negative one at the same time as a way to heal old pain and wounds. He says that this last step is one to do only after getting good at the first three.
Hanson’s HEAL method is the steps for learning how to savor life. It’s about taking control of how your brain has a Stone Age bias, not about covering up negative truths. Over time the gradual accumulation of good experience will build up. As he says this is the “Law of little things. If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”
Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.”
Drop by drop is the water pot filled.
Likewise, the wise one, gathering it little by little,
Fills oneself with good.
Photo by Kayla Farmer on Unsplash