The science (and skill) of actually enjoying your life

Takeaway: There is a science behind enjoying life. The fascinating research field of “savoring” explores the tactical ways we can better enjoy everyday experiences—which can make us more calm, focused, and productive.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 30s.

In writing my most recent book, How to Calm Your Mind, I had the chance to explore the research behind a bunch of fascinating topics related to productivity, anxiety, burnout, and calm. One of those topics was the science of “savoring.” Savoring is defined as the process of converting positive experiences into positive emotions.

Surprisingly, there’s a good amount of science behind how we can better enjoy our lives. (The more we enjoy everyday experiences, the calmer and more focused we become.)

Here’s a key to remember: just because you experience something enjoyable doesn’t mean you derive enjoyment from it. Think about the delicious meals you distractedly scarf down in front of the TV. Or the family gatherings you can’t fully immerse yourself in because your mind is still anxious about work. There are countless daily experiences we rush past because we don’t savor them—everything from our morning coffee to time with people we love. Experiences, in other words, that make life good.

Luckily, there are a treasure trove of research-backed strategies that can help us appreciate these experiences more. Savoring is one of these strategies.

As I break down in the book, there are countless styles of savoring—techniques we can practice for enjoying our lives more. A few of them are:

  • Luxuriating: Basking in the pleasure of a positive experience. (This is where our mind often goes when we think about savoring.)
  • Marveling: Experiencing awe, like when we look out at the ocean or up at the night sky.
  • Giving thanks: Expressing gratitude for something (my favorite way to do this is recalling three things I’m grateful for every night with my wife.)

We can also practice savoring across different time frames. For example, we can savor the past, reflecting on positive memories and experiences. This is called reminiscence. We can practice anticipation and savor the future by thinking about upcoming experiences that excite us. (These still count as savoring because they happen in the present.)

The list of techniques goes on, but these are a few to get you started.

One simple daily habit you can use to practice savoring is to keep a Savor List. The definition is in the name: on this list is everything you like to regularly savor—from fancy take-out lattes, to time with your kids, to wine-fueled board game nights with your spouse.

This is a simple strategy, but I turn to these savoring activities at least once every single day. Interestingly, the more ambitious and driven you are, the more you need this advice. The networks in our brain that help us enjoy life and those that are active when we strive for more are anticorrelated: when one is active, the other isn’t. Wealthier people report a decreased ability to savor everyday experiences—and so do men.

Fortunately, there’s hard science behind how we can enjoy our lives. Even better yet, savoring is a skill you can improve on over time. I explore all these topics much more in my new book—here’s a link if you’d like to check it out!

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