Savouring an experience is to appreciate it fully; we can think, write, or talk about it to do so. It is important to note that the experience chosen doesn’t necessarily have to be positive. We can selfishly relish a positive experience or ruminate over a negative one. Regardless, there is research to suggest that the act of savouring is highly beneficial for our well-being.
Jose et al. (2012) found savouring positive experiences led to higher levels of daily happiness. They looked a group of 101 students. Specifically, they submitted each day over a 30-day period their momentary positive events, their savouring responses, and how happy they felt through a framework the researchers provided. As was predicted, these three measures were positively related within a given day. This meant that more positive momentary events was associated with higher daily happiness levels.
Talk, don’t think through negative experiences
Lyubomirsky et. al (2006) investigated more thoroughly the impact of savouring, specifically focusing on the difference between positive and negative events, and the medium of savouring between thinking, talking, or writing. Their first study looked at the impact of either talking or thinking through a person’s worst life experience on life satisfaction and health outcomes. As predicted, they found the group that talked through the negative experiences resulted in higher levels of life satisfaction and health compared to the group that thunk through it. The researchers believed that talking had a bigger impact because it is more tangible and requires more structure and organisation than thinking. It is as if they are speaking it into existence, which goes some way to move past it versus just keeping it in your head.
Think, don’t talk through positive experiences
In their second study, the focussed on the impact between writing & talking versus thinking when savouring positive experiences. Interestingly, the group that thought privately about their happiest experiences resulted in higher levels of life satisfaction. They theorised that perhaps the more rigid and analytical nature of talking or writing forces people to break down the positive experiences such that the joy from them is depressed. While this may be an effective technique for savouring negative experiences, it has the opposite effect for positive experiences. Hence why thinking about positive experiences, replaying the joyous moments in your head, is perhaps a more visceral experience and results in increased happiness from savouring.
In their third study, they focused in on the impact between writing analytically versus writing superficially for positive experiences. Naturally, the group that wrote about it superficially had higher levels of life satisfaction. This gives credence to the idea that sense-making and analysis is counter-productive when savouring a positive experience.
In short, it helps to be analytical and intentional when savouring negative experiences. It helps break down the hold it may have on you. For positive experiences, it is better to savour viscerally and eliminate as much analysis or sense-making as you can from it. I first learnt of this concept in Coursera’s The Science of Wellbeing course. Through that, I have made it the first prompt of my daily reflection. I can only speak to myself, but I have found value in the practice, and hope that you my as well.
Jose et al. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 176-187.
Lyubomirsky et al. (2006). The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about life’s triumphs and defeats. Journal of personality and social psychology, 90(4), 692.