The year 2021 has been one where I embraced slow living. One of the qualities that allowed me to deepen my narrative is that of savouring. Over the last 10 years or more, I have been aware of this idea of savouring, yet this year I feel it has finally become part of me and my life. The earliest origins and meaning of the term “savour” are in relation to taste, and that continues—we immediately associate it with food or a particular smell.
It was Fred Bryant, a social psychologist, who talked about how savouring as a concept can be used in relation to our emotional well-being, amplifying positive experiences and emotions. Bryant and Joseph Veroff, in the 2007 book Savoring: A New Model Of Positive Experience, define the term as “the capacity to attend to, appreciate and enhance the positive experiences in one’s life”.
Savouring, in a nutshell, can be understood as a process we develop consciously through mindful attentive presence and pause that allows us to enjoy and stay with positive processes, experiences, emotions, even conversations.
This life skill can go a long way in regulating our moods, adding to our satisfaction, and most importantly, teaching us to enjoy our relationships and life as they are. Developing this capacity is crucial because the human brain is wired towards negativity bias. Our brain is more likely to remember and focus on what’s going wrong or even ruminate on the possibility of something going wrong. Not just that, research consistently shows that people are more likely to pay attention to a negative event and underestimate the positive event. Learning to consciously develop the capacity for savouring may be a way to deal with this bias. No matter how old or young you are, it’s always a good time to actively develop a lens for seeing the world through savouring. Whether it’s in the context of experiences or relationships, we can create space and an intent to prolong and be fully present when we are in the midst of a moment that seems to be fulfilling or deeply satisfying.
We as human beings live in a world where the focus is on the next big thing, bucket lists, moving on to something bigger. As a result, we find ourselves stuck on the hedonic treadmill. The constant chase, urgency, make it hard for us to stop and absorb the goodness, the joy that comes from moments and experiences as they happen.
Having said that, the first step lies in acknowledging this hustle and asking ourselves if we do want to pause. In my eyes, it’s this, the ability and choice to pause, paying mindful attention to what’s happening around, the capacity to be singularly present and focus, and patience, that constitutes savouring. We all can let these four components slowly find a way into our lives. For me personally, consciously reading one book at a time, paying attention to the words, letting a quote linger, sometimes even rereading it and then pausing to watch the sunrise, observe the sky, be in awe of how parrots come at a fixed time to my balcony, are simple ways to make savouring a part of my life. These small acts allow me to understand that positive experiences can register more deeply if we create a space to soak and immerse in those experiences.
Whether it’s the act of taking pictures, looking at old pictures, listening to a song that you love over and over or taking time to have your cup of tea and enjoying it: all these are acts of savouring. Not just that, sometimes when we think about a conversation from our past with a loved one or even imagine future possibilities, such as finally seeing a friend after two years, we might be engaging in savouring.
For me, 2021 has been a reminder that amidst all the uncertainty, there is always an option to savour experiences—and let positive experiences touch my life.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.