Family life can be wonderful and joyful, a source of connection and support that contributes to happiness and life satisfaction. However, life is stressful and busy and complicated and riddled with challenges, so this idyllic experience of family often goes unnoticed and unnurtured. If you find yourself feeling frustrated and frazzled, stretched and stressed rather than relaxed and playful with your family, you’re in the majority of modern families. Embracing a positive psychology concept known as savoring can help you reconnect with what you value, reduce family stress, and experience genuine joy despite the stressors of life.
What is Savoring?
Savoring is a way of experiencing ordinary moments of life. First researched by Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff, savoring has been scientifically linked to greater happiness and wellbeing and is embraced by the field of positive psychology as a way of cultivating the good in life even while experiencing problems, challenges, and stressors (Harvard Health Publishing). As explained in the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report Positive Psychology:
Most people are primed to experience pleasure in special moments, such as a wedding day or a vacation. Everyday pleasures, on the other hand, can slip by without much notice unless they disappear or seem threatened.
One way to embrace what you value in life and enjoy it more, whether that’s family time or the pursuit of a favorite passion or volunteering in a personally meaningful way, is to savor what you’re doing while you are doing it. This means living mindfully, experiencing it actively and fully while it’s happening rather than distracted with thoughts and emotions about stressors past, present, or future.
Savoring is a simple concept that is not always easy to practice in the real world. We do have deadlines and responsibilities, and worries about them naturally creep into the mind. As I’ve explored before, the human brain has a negativity bias, and it is constantly scanning for problems and ruminating over them in an attempt to keep you safe and secure. Constantly thinking about these things and overthinking events of the past or future doesn’t move us toward what we value most and life. It serves only to keep our bodymind’s stress reaction activated and detract from our ability to enjoy the moment we’re in. We might be spending time with family but are mentally elsewhere, thus missing out on the experience and relationships.
5 Tips to Help You Savor What’s Important to You
Try these five tips for mindfully savoring family time while it’s happening.
- Develop awareness. Notice what is happening around you, and pay attention to it. Notice, too, when you are lost in thought or caught up in emotions unrelated to this moment. The more you catch yourself distracted, the more you can gently (as in without judging yourself harshly for being distracted) return your attention to the present moment.
- Practice acceptance. Accepting that life is busy and you have responsibilities to tend to after this precious moment of family time (or whatever you are doing) can actually help you return your attention to the moment. Trying to deny or avoid what lies ahead on your to-do list signals your brain to try to hang onto it so you don’t forget. Allow yourself to be present fully right now even though you have a long to-do list, and inwardly commit to working on a specific task later (set a time limit if you need to). This helps your mind let go of the worry about the future and settle into enjoying the moment.
- Cultivate gratitude and appreciation. When you catch yourself stressed with something happening in this moment or stuck in your mind ruminating about things, shift your attention by intentionally seeking something positive in this moment. Harnessing the power of gratitude and actively appreciating something good in your moment, no matter how small, helps train your brain to remain present and enjoy what is happening. It’s an important part of savoring despite stress.
- “Uni-task.” This refers to engaging in one thing at a time. When you’re spending time with your family, for example, avoid the temptation created by ever-present smart phones to check your email or social media. Multitasking interferes in happiness by pulling us out of the moment, and it has been demonstrated in studies to be ineffective anyway. Even mentally scanning ahead to organize tasks on your to-do list is a form of multitasking that hinders rather than helps.
- Celebrate the moment in the moment. Doing something little to celebrate your mindful family time reinforces for your brain the fact that savoring is desirable and important. Actively celebrating (even just by laughing together and acknowledging your appreciation for the fun time) activates the dopamine center in your brain, flooding your brain with feel-good neurotransmitters that boost happiness now and encouraging your brain to do more of whatever it is that made it feel content.
Savor Despite Stress
Savoring can stave off negativity. Savoring what you are doing and with whom you are doing it, right now as it is happening, is both a mindfulness skill and a positive result of living mindfully. As a skill, it is something you can develop with patience, practice, and persistence. As you savor your time with your family, you will likely experience deeper connections and contentment–even if you are busy, stretched, and stressed. Imagine how freeing it could be to put everything aside but this moment with your family.
Interested in actively cultivating the power of savoring? The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal helps you set intentions and commit to being fully present as you take deliberate actions to do more of what’s important to you every day.