August 11, 2009

Activity Two: Savoring – Stop and Smell the Roses

I can recall when I lived in Austin, TX. I was 21 and life was pretty easy and simple, though I was most often broke. I used to lie on the bank of the San Marcos River waiting for my brother and his wife to join me so we could float down the river on inner tubes. If I close my eyes, I can bring this memory to mind in an instant, and smell and feel the sticky, thick summer air of the Texas Hill Country, and hear the laughter of others enjoying their day on the river and the constant clicking buzz of cicadas in the trees. When I call this image to mind, it makes me feel good, it reminds me of the positive things that have happened in my life, it makes me appreciate my brother and the life lessons I learned from him, and it reminds me that life can be simple if you decide to make it so. I recall the trips down the river, the rope swing at a swimming hole near the end of the journey, and the traditional Mexican family restaurant at journey’s end, with homemade tortillas and my first ever experience of homemade chili con queso. This is an example of savoring the past.

Often we miss enjoying the present by focusing too much on the negatives of the past, or worrying about and fearing the future. Savoring refers to “thoughts and behaviors that are capable of generating, intensifying, or prolonging enjoyment.” This can include enjoying what is happening right now (laughing with a friend, eating a piece of chocolate, or being involved in a game of cards or baseball). But, it can also include bringing past positive events into the present to focus on them and enjoy them now, or to imagine and fantasize about positive events in the future. These can be ordinary daily experiences, once in a lifetime events, or anything in between. This is all the more important if you experience depression, as research shows that people who are depressed have a tendency to recall more negative events from the past.

For this exercise, I encourage you to practice savoring an experience from your past, present, and the future. Some ideas on how to do this are to be open to beauty and excellence, replay happy events, celebrate good news, enjoy family or friends, and take pleasure in your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).

To intensify savoring, try these strategies: 1. Share your experience with others; 2. Practice memory building (call up a mental photographs; use a physical souvenir, etc.); 3. Engage in self-congratulations at positive things you have accomplished or contributed to; 4. Sharpen your perceptions (focus on elements of the experience); and 5. Engage in absorption (immerse yourself as fully as possible in the experience).

I will continue to post more of these life satisfaction exercises, interspersed with blogs on other topics. Look for the next one on how to balance “personal control and individuality” with “belongingness” in romantic relationships, a family, a workplace, a community. I am convinced this is one of the great human challenges we all face.