Savoring Life

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

savoring life includes viewing a beautiful sunset

I’ll be Happy When…

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.

Learning From a Friend

I’m thinking about a friend, Renee, who suffered a very severe aneurism in her brain some years back. Renee had already been through a lot. She’d recently gone through a difficult divorce. Both parents passed away. A wildfire destroyed their mountain home in Colorado. And now this. Perhaps most challenging is the fact that she had 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 several weeks after her stroke. It was the appreciative, cheerful Renee we 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.

Although nervous, Renee was so excited about a new chance at life. She talked about her kids. We knew how much they meant to her and now their bonds were stronger. She (and they) could no longer take one another for granted. Simple things, savoring her life with her children now had new meaning for her.

Getting a New Start

Now and again I’ve had the opportunity to know someone like Renee, someone who gets a “new start.” I have a friend named 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 were opened. The world around them did not change but their perspective and ability to take it in, to savor life, shifted in new and beautiful ways.

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

The Meaning of Savoring Life

The field of positive psychology has a term for it–savoring, defined as “generating, intensifying, or prolonging enjoyment.” Savoring life 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.

savoring an orange

Or something as simple as eating an orange can be immensely pleasurable if you peel it slowly noticing its shape, color and texture. Then eat it slowly, a section at a time, enjoying the taste of the juice and paying attention to the texture of the membranes in your mouth and to the sensations involved in swallowing.

Or carve out a few minutes to sit on your back porch and enjoy the sights and sounds of summer. Likewise, eating a meal, sweeping the floor, getting ready for the day, walking from your car to your place of work can become pleasurable if you are willing to wake up and be fully present during these experiences. In our hurry to get to the “big” things, we miss out on the “little” things which make up most of our experience. And one day, we’re going to look back and realize that these little things were really the big things all along.

Benefits of Savoring Life

Did you know that savoring life 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 as Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff teach in their book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience. I could go on about the research because there is an abundance of such studies.

How to Savor

But I have to say that slowing down and savoring life does not come naturally to most of us in our harried lives. Doing so takes a conscious decision and practice. But you can learn to do so as you become more aware and commit to practicing. 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>.

6 responses to “Savoring Life”

  1. I may have mentioned this before, but it applies again here. For a wonderful booster shot for savoring, go to gratefulness.org and watch the 6-minute video “A Good Day.” I had the pleasure of meeting Br. David in 1976 in Boulder, when he was our house guest. We didn’t have a dishwasher, and I helped him do the dishes for five evenings. It changed how I look at life. Enjoy! He is still alive and kicking in his 90’s.

  2. Ed Engel says:

    Great advice from you Roger, as always!
    After raising 5 kids I often give young parents struggling with little ones similar advice. Too often, while raising children, we “can’t wait” for the next thing to happen – for the actual birth, bringing them home from the hospital, to ween them from nursing to bottles, for them to take their first step or utter their first word, go off to school, get their driver’s license, etc.
    But each step comes with a downside. We can’t wait for them to walk but then they disappear in the grocery store. We can’t wait for them to talk but then they won’t shut up. Ultimately we can’t wait for them to go away to college – but then all of a sudden they are GONE.
    We get so busy waiting for the next phase of development, thinking that it will be better, and we miss the present moment with the child.
    My wife and I tried really hard to “savor” the current moment with each of our kids through each stage of their development. It changes everything – right down to changing poopy diapers and all the rest. Each stage of child development is worthy of our time, our attention, and our best effort.
    The new challenge for us is doing the same thing with the grandkids – they are such a joy and we are truly savoring the experience.
    Great article my friend!!

    • Thanks, Ed. I love your comment that “each stage of child development is worthy of our time, our attention, and our best effort.” If we can just learn to be present and enjoy life rather than chasing the next experience. I do think that is “The Secret of Life” as James Taylor once said.

  3. Thank you for the article Roger and thank you Russ for sharing the website Gratefulness.org. I’ve found many good videos there and will continue to explore. I have not found the one you referenced, A Good Day. Perhaps you can direct me to it. Thanks again.

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