A Real Life Savor (#725)

(Michael is away on holiday, so this week’s tip is from the archives. You can access over 700 of Michael’s tips as a member of the Solutions Cafe!)

The word ‘savor’ comes from the Latin ‘sapere’, which means both ‘to taste” and ‘to be wise.’ As it is commonly used today, to savor something is to indulge in it – to taste it slowly and appreciate it deeply.

As described by Martin Seligman in his excellent book Authentic Happiness, there are essentially four kinds of savoring:

1. Basking – receiving praise and congratulations

2. Thanksgiving – expressing gratitude for blessings

3. Marveling – losing the self in the wonder of the moment

4. Luxuriating – indulging the senses

In their work with thousands of undergraduates, Professors Joseph Veroff and Fred Bryant have further developed a series of techniques to promote ‘life savoring’. As I could find no published record of their research save the mention in Authentic Happiness, the descriptions which follow each technique are my own, for better and for worse…

1. Sharing with Others

When we find something we truly enjoy, one of the first impulses we have is to share it with others. Whether it’s a book, movie, website, or restaurant, we magnify our own experience of pleasure as we describe it to someone else. Here’s an eclectic list of some of the experiences my family and I have savored, both recently and through the years:

    • Shopping at Costco
    • Banking with First Direct (UK)
    • Seeing the movie version of Pirates of the Carribean
    • Reading The Chronicles of Narnia
    • Peanut Butter and Bacon sandwiches (have to be tried to be believed 🙂
    • Going to Myrtos beach on the island of Cephalonia

 

One of the reasons clubs and special interest groups are so popular is that by surrounding ourselves with people who share our hobbies and passions, we create a safe haven within which we can indulge and savor those things we love.

2. Memory-Building

Over the past 4 days, my son Oliver and I have been camping in Sequoia National Park.  As we recounted our adventures to my wife, we relived each incident we described in vivid detail, from seeing the world’s tallest tree to braving the depths of the Crystal Cavern. By the time we were done sharing our stories, our own experience of the trip had deepened and our memories of the trip had become richer.

This is one of the reasons why souvenirs and photographs hold such a fascination for us – they serve as tangible reminders of the special, sacred times in our lives. It’s also the reason why viewing someone else’s holiday photos can be such a nightmare – without the memories attached, those precious photos become little more than pretty (and sometimes not so pretty 🙂 pictures.

3. Self-Congratulation

For most of us, publicly acknowledging our strengths, achievements, and positive qualities is one of the most awkward and embarrassing things we are ever asked to do. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are rarely if ever asked to do it.

One of my favorite stories in this regard was told of a football player from the midwestern United States who was known for his modesty and humility. When he was called as a witness in a local civil trial, the player took the stand. After taking the oath ‘to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God’, the player was asked a few preliminary questions…

“Are you a football player?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

“Are you any good?”

The player paused and looked uncomfortably around the room.

“I’m amazing, sir. Probably the best in the country.”

Everyone in the room laughed.

After the trial, the local football coach told the player how surprised he was at his boastfulness.

“What could I do, coach?”, the player replied sadly. “I was under oath!”

If we can step outside the cultural injunction to ‘know our place’ long enough to allow ourselves to really feel pride in who we are and what we do, we awaken the magnificence that Marianne Williamson speaks of in her now famous writing on ‘Our Deepest Fear’:

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It’s our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
 

We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?You are a child of the universe.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightening about shrinking,
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of the universe
that is within us. It’s not just in some of us: it is in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
And as we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”

4. Sharpening Perceptions

As a kid, one of my favorite comic book super heroes was ‘Daredevil’, whose blindness engendered a superhuman sense of hearing, taste, touch, and smell. For years, martial arts and the military have made use of partial sensory-deprivation as a training tool, sharpening the perceptions of the trainee by artificially depriving them of one or more of their usual senses. If you’ve ever closed your eyes while listening to beautiful music or savoring delicious food, you were using this same tool to sharpen your perceptions and deepen your experience of whatever it is you were doing.

5. Absorption

While one of the major symptoms of depression is self-absorption, one of the consistent factors present in optimal flow experiences is ‘other-absorption’ – the ability to lose all sense of time and become totally absorbed in the object or task at hand. If you’ve ever looked up at the clock while working on your favorite hobby and realized you forgot to eat lunch, or been startled out of a delicious conversation by the sound of the morning lark, you know the experience of positive absorption.

This is the exact opposite of ‘driver trance’, where you suddenly look up and marvel at the fact that you’re a) still driving and b) still alive! Rather than getting lost in our thoughts, savoring invites us to lose ourselves in whatever it is that we’re doing.


Today’s Experiment:

1. Make a list of at least 10 of your favorite things to see and do. Share the list with as many people as possible over the course of the week and notice what happens to your experience.

2. Take some time to dig out an old photo album or scrap book that you haven’t looked at for a long time. Really give yourself time to savor the memories attached to each photograph, souvenir, or clipping.

3. For two minutes, write down every answer you can think of to the question, “What’s good about me?” If that’s easy for you to do, (or if you’re up for a real challenge!), share your answers with at least five people this week.

4. Choose an activity where it feels safe to really indulge your senses. If you like, engage in some partial sensory deprivation – wear earplugs as you walk through an art gallery; have a friend blindfold you and prepare you a sensuous feast. (Let’s face it – this had better be a VERY good friend… 🙂

5. The next time you are doing something which you enjoy, allow yourself to get totally immersed in the activity. To the best of your ability, don’t think about what you’re doing, just do it. Fully inhabit your body. Let go of any baggage you may be carrying about what’s just happened or what’s coming next. To paraphrase Cheri Huber, don’t just fall, dive!

Have fun, learn heaps, and take the time to give yourself a real life savor…

With love,
Michael

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