Stop, Look and Listen

This week, we take a look at two Happy Habits. Each has to do with focus and attention. So often, when we can take control of our minds, we can elevate our mood and increase our awareness and appreciation of the good things around us.

Savoring

Most of us know how to savor chocolate, wine, donuts, or cheesecake—though sometimes, we gulp down the good stuff while the awful-tasting stuff is hard to swallow and stays in our mouths an obnoxiously long time. When it comes to gustatory experiences, savoring makes sense. The aroma of fresh baked goods can cause a lot of deep breathing and can foster anticipatory happiness. There is, indeed, wisdom in the saying, “Anticipation does not lessen delight.” In fact, the anticipation begins the delight, and savoring extends it.

Savoring, like worry, are conscious, cognitive choices. The philosopher Seneca said, “It is tragic for the soul to be apprehensive of the future and wretched in anticipation of wretchedness.” We would offer the other side of that coin, “It is brilliant for the soul to anticipate joy, beauty, and tastiness, for in doing so, it is twice delighted.”

Savoring builds up your defenses, physically and psychologically. Savoring success, achievement, and other positive life experiences are important for two reasons. First, you linger on a happy outcome, a moment of satisfaction, a flash of joy—and thus, you extend your happiness. You also enhance the likelihood that you will remember this excellent event or experience, and in hard times, those memories can shore you up and give you another dose of joy. Researchers have repeatedly found that taking time to savor the moment in the midst of a busy day can increase happiness and decrease depression.

Recently, some of us have had a chance to notice our romantic relationships and long-term family connections because we get large doses due to sheltering in place. Here’s a poem that we love to revisit when it comes to savoring such relationships.

Decade

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,

And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.

Now you are like morning bread,

Smooth and pleasant.

I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,

But I am completely nourished.

Amy Lowell

For this week, one of our suggestions is to pick a savoring assignment from a menu of research-based savoring activities listed below. Doing any of them has a strong chance of making you feel significantly happier. Here are your options:

  • Engage in mutual reminiscence. Mutual reminiscence happens when you get together with someone and intentionally pull up and talk about fun, positive, or meaningful memories. You might have to use Zoom or Face-time. Research hasn't addressed social distancing yet, but we suspect cyber reminiscing with friends will be almost as potent.

  • Make a list of positive memories. After making the list, transport yourself to reminisce on one of the memories. You can do this one by yourself. Retrieve the memory. Play it back in your mind. Explore it. Feel it. Let your brain elaborate on the details.

  • Celebrate good news longer than you would. This is easy. You need to track/observe for a positive message or news in your life that feels good. Then, let your mind linger on it. Notice how you feel. What parts of the news are especially meaningful and pleasant to you? Extend and celebrate the good news.

  • Notice and observe beauty. This activity is mostly visual, but you can listen for beautiful sounds too. Let yourself see color, patterns, and nuance beauty in nature or in art. Linger with that visual and let its pleasant effects be in your eyes, brain, and body. Notice and feel those sensations. Linger, linger, linger.

Mindfulness

And while you are practicing lingering, you can also begin to learn more about mindfulness. In Happy Habits Number 2, we urged you to learn about the amazing benefits of relaxation. Savoring and relaxing require that you focus your thoughts in-the-moment.

In the case of savoring, you are focused on something good, tasty, or generally pleasing.

In the case of relaxing, you are focused on your body—releasing tension and letting go of the thoughts that feed the tension.

In the case of mindfulness, you have no agenda. The focus is on letting go.

With mindfulness in general, your goal is to clear all that hubbub in your brain caused by the incessant chatter in there—the dread, the regret, the judgments and evaluations, the preparatory energies, the lists, the fears, the angers... you get the idea.

Let it all go. Notice your breath. Notice your body. Notice your world without urgency, condemnation, or pleasure. Just notice. You are looking in the mirror at yourself. You are noticing yourself noticing. You settle into the Now and let it be enough.

As with guided relaxation and imagery, there are many Internet sites, classes, and programs that help you grow increasingly mindful. If you enjoy a low male voice in a British accent, try 

The options are eclectic. Some are Buddhist, some Jewish, some secular. One size does not fit all. Here’s a sample of one for Christians: 

We hope you will give the suggestions a try. They won’t take you long, and they have a very good chance of being helpful. And as always, we’d be happy to hear about how this works for you.