Savoring Life


We often associate happiness and joy with some future event  or circumstance. “I’ll be happy when I graduate and go to college…” “I get married…. “I have children…” “The children are grown and on their own…” “I get my new house/car…” “I retire and get out of this rat race…” “I move to a warmer climate…” We live our lives waiting, putting off our happiness until something (someone) “out there” is different.

I have a friend, Renee, who recently suffered a very severe aneurism in her brain. Renee has been through a lot these past few years. She’s gone through a difficult divorce. Both parents passed away. A wildfire destroyed their mountain home in northern Colorado. And now this. Perhaps most challenging is the fact that she has three teenagers, still quite dependent on her for their well-being.

My wife and I were alarmed the first time we visited Renee. She was in a coma and totally unresponsive. The doctors were honest and not optimistic. They didn’t know whether she would recover, or if she did, what level of functioning she’d achieve. Yet each time we visited her over the next several weeks, Renee was improving. It was incredible to see how far she had come when we visited her just a few evenings back. It was the appreciative, cheerful Renee we’d knew and loved. She was excited to tell us that she’ll be released from the hospital in another week, some two months after the initial incident.

How happy, and a little nervous, Renee is for a new chance at life. How much love she feels for her kids. She always has been a loving and good mother. But the bonds are even stronger now. She (and they) can no longer take one another for granted. Simple things she used to do now have new meaning for her.

Now and again I’ve had the opportunity to know someone like Renee, someone who gets a “new start.” Like my friend Rob who survived stage IV, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma several years back. I remember him telling me how his perspective shifted. The little things, so many things that he had taken for granted every day, were suddenly big things–a simple meal, a good piece of music, watching a flock of birds, enjoying a sunset, greeting a loved one.

It is as though Renee and Rob each awakened from a slumber. Their eyes are open. The world around them has not changed but their perspective and ability to take it in has shifted in new and beautiful ways.

How do we cultivate such an appreciation, a fresh perspective in our own lives?

The field of positive psychology has a term for it–savoring, defined as “generating, intensifying, or prolonging enjoyment.” Savoring is more than going through an experience. It is paying attention while going through the experience in a way that allows you to fully enjoy it.

I’m looking at a vase of flowers as I write these words, miniature carnations in various shades of red, purple, yellow, and whitish pink. Seeing them is one thing. Savoring them, taking time to take them in and enjoy their fragrance and delicate beauty, is quite another. As I do so, I notice that my spirits lift. I feel a little surge of appreciation, wonder, and joy for life.

Did you know that savoring is related to happiness and all kinds of positive emotions? That’s what the research shows. In one set of studies, depressed patients were asked to take time to enjoy something they normally hurry through (eating a meal, taking a shower, walking to their parked car). They were further instructed to write down how they experienced this differently than when they rushed through the activity. In another study, people were asked to savor two pleasurable experiences each day by reflecting on them for two or three minutes and trying to make the pleasure last as long and intensely as possible. In both cases, those who practiced savoring experienced increased feelings of happiness and decreases in negative moods or depression.

Other studies have found similar results. People who take time to “savor” are not only happier but more confident, grateful, hopeful, and less neurotic (A New Model of Positive Experience, Bryant and Veroff.) I could go on about the research because there is an abundance of such studies.

What’s more important is that you learn to do it in your life. Here’s how.

  1. Wake up to the present moment.
  2. Let go of distractions.
  3. Focus intently on what you are doing/seeing/experiencing.
  4. Take a moment to prolong the enjoyment.

Not only can you learn to savor by being present during life’s simple tasks or pleasures but by employing many other simple strategies. These include being open to beauty and excellence, reminiscing about happy times from your past (especially as you do so with others), taking more time to celebrate good news or an accomplishment, taking pleasure in the physical senses, writing down your good experiences, using a camera to record life events, and so on.

Many people, like Renee and Rob, who have had a brush with death, have a renewed appreciation for life. Many of us have to cultivate such an appreciation by learning to savor our experiences. By learning to savor we increase our happiness, confidence, and well-being. That is my challenge to you. Wake up as you go through the next day. Focus intently on your experience and discover joy in the simple, even mundane tasks of your life.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

10 responses to “Savoring Life”

  1. PAM INFANGER says:

    I savor our friendship.

    • Roger Allen says:

      Thank you Pam. You have always been such a wonderful support. I really appreciate you in my life. Roger

  2. Seth Jenson says:

    I will take time to savor. Thanks Roger!

    • Roger Allen says:

      Great. The small things really are the big things in life. I notice my life improving significantly as I take time to savor. Roger

  3. Casey Gadway says:

    Roger- I hope & pray the Renee & Rob will stay healthy in their recovery.

    These stories are inspirational & uplifting & a great model for what is really important in our lives.
    “Thank you for sharing”

    CASEY

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Casey,

      You’re welcome. I appreciate Renee being willing for me to share her story. She reminds me of what is most important. Roger

  4. Renee says:

    Thank you for this beautiful article! What you say is true, I have a new appreciation for life. I will never take it for granted!

    -Renee

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Renee,

      I’m very happy for you and your family that you’re home and doing so well. I admire your faith, courage and love. You’re an example to me. (Thanks for letting me share a little of your story.)

  5. Kent Sellers says:

    Wonderfully written and insightful article! While I do take time to savor some experiences in my life–a good meal, a beautiful flower or sunset, a well-turned phrase in a good book–I don’t do it often enough, even though I know the positive contentment and, yes, happiness I feel as a reward for this practice. I will take up your challenge and “wake up” over the next few days to savor the everyday moments. After all, there is nothing better than JOY.

    • Roger Allen says:

      Thank you Kent. What is so wonderful about savoring is that it is simple, like so many practices that bring joy. We too often chase the big things forgetting that the little things are what life is about. Let’s talk, in the days ahead, about the challenge of waking up to savor every day moments. Roger

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