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Why you need to live in the moment

If you think about the happiest people you know, you may observe they are also those who relish life. They laugh out loud, don’t mind getting dirty and participate in each day with gusto. They enthusiastically grasp each opportunity that comes by, inhale deeply life’s scents and embrace the whole mess that is life. They appear to have a consuming passion that allows them to fully experience everything they do and they find pleasure wherever they go, regardless of the circumstances.

These people are savourers. They are the ones who make the most out of each day they are given; they achieve much but seem to operate at half pace, allowing them to truly experience each moment. And, while it may seem to come naturally to a lucky few, the art of savouring is actually available to us all — we just have to become conscious of the world around us in more than just a superficial “been there, done that” way.

According to researchers such as social psychologist Fred B. Bryant, the happiness that can come from savouring can be ours simply by using our minds in a positive and proactive way. In his book Savoring: A new model of positive experience, Bryant and co-author Joseph Veroff, suggest we don’t automatically feel joy and happiness when good things happen to us. Instead, it’s the way we reflect on our experiences that determines how happy we are. They suggest that by reflecting consciously on our lives we will be able to see many more of the key moments we otherwise overlook.

Negative thinking is, unfortunately, the most common kind of reflection many of us engage in. But it should be noted that this is not the kind of ruminating that Bryant and others are talking about. To find happiness and contentment from reflection we need to focus on the pleasure we receive from the moments we reflect on, regardless of whether or not the overall experience was a positive one. Positive reflection allows us to savour life in a way that benefits us and that can have the greatest impact on our psyches, our future and our confidence; and, while we might be tempted to look for big moments to focus our attention on, we won’t necessarily find we can accurately or significantly remember the details of these experiences.

In the blur of activity, our senses can often become less efficient at recording the event and the moment is, in many ways, lost to more than a superficial remembrance. Therefore, we need to look more broadly for the moments that can lift us, for sometimes the smallest of things can give us the greatest flush of pleasure, the purest jolt of joy, the biggest smile, the warmest feelings of love and belonging.

So how do we bring the act of reflection into our day-to-day lives? By spending time looking back on those times that make us smile, by being in the moment and by pausing to really look around us to properly see the place where we are and the people we are with. It is about thinking about the experiences that have shaped your life and being grateful for the lessons you have learned, the things you have done, the beauty you have seen and the people you have met.

While these things might seem simple enough, it’s a truth that we need to be reminded to consciously reflect because we spend so much of our time focusing on what we don’t have, on the things and events that might make us happy, and why we don’t yet have them. By consciously and actively reflecting on the moments that make up our lives we will come to realise that there are so many delightful, heartening, mood lifting moments that occur daily, that if we make an effort to see them and to enjoy them for even a second, our happiness levels will increase.

Perhaps an appropriate motto for bringing reflection into your life could be: pursue life with an eye for details. To appreciate the details we need to engage all of our senses. We need to use sight, sound, smell, touch and taste to experience each and every moment. When we use all of our senses to experience life, when we slow down a little to let life in, we are savouring life.

Savouring is not only a way to heighten our experiences but also a way of controlling our positive experiences and actively engaging with life with enjoyment. The power of savouring, even in the midst of stress, change or grief, can lighten the heart and allow us to refocus on our paths in a much more confident and hopeful way. It can distract us from the negative and re-inspire us; it can offer a new way of seeing through problems, opening our minds to creative solutions.

To begin to savour life, Bryant and his fellow researchers suggest using these focal points to engage yourself with each and every moment.

Telling stories

While spending time with family and friends is one of life’s great pleasures, sharing our positive feelings with those we know, love and trust can boost our levels of overall happiness. This is because sharing an experience through reminiscing encourages us to savour the good times we’ve had, spiking our feel-good hormones and setting good memories in place more firmly. Sharing anecdotes and passing on history is a bonding experience, no doubt, but we should not overlook our private experiences as fodder for others. Even if the story we want to share depicts something that happened when we were alone, Bryant assures us we will still reap the emotional benefits of sharing.

Building memories is also a process we can begin as events unfold. During an experience, if we think about who would appreciate being told about what we are seeing or doing, we reaffirm the details of the event in our memories, allowing us a more vivid recall when we want to relive the moment for ourselves or for others. By consciously thinking about sharing the moment, we build bigger and better memories and heighten the feelings evoked.

Take a mental picture

Pausing during an event or occasion to focus on really seeing who is around you and taking in the detail of the event are also vital in the art of savouring and building more vivid experiences and memories. When we use our senses to experience a moment, we are cementing our positive experiences more firmly in our memory banks. This is why a certain smell, sound or taste can evoke pleasure the instant we experience them. Even if we don’t immediately make the connection between the emotion and the original event, our minds and bodies don’t forget.

So take a mental picture, one that takes in not just sights but sounds and smells. Look carefully at the expressions on the faces of the people around you, lock in the sounds of their voices and take in the setting — the season and location. Inhale deeply and click the shutter down. Take that moment and file it away; feel the emotions it evokes and tell someone how you are feeling.

A pat on the back

While many of us are uncomfortable with self praise or too busy to take a moment to enjoy our successes, it’s important to reflect on and savour the results of your efforts. Not only does this kind of action help build confidence, it also allows you to appreciate and feel pride in the skills you have learnt and your ability to negotiate, persist and achieve your goals.

We too often shrug off praise from others and try not to allow ourselves to feel smug, but the negativity surrounding self pride is unfair. Appreciating where we started from and where have arrived at helps us to keep moving forward. Success is never sudden. It involves hard work and small steps forward; it requires flexibility and determination and it reflects our strength, intelligence and resolve. Savouring who you were and who you have become should never make you feel embarrassed. It should instead make you feel strong.

Sensual

We have already looked at the pleasure that using our senses can bring us and the basic examples of this are probably the forms of savouring we are most familiar with. We like to savour the smell of good coffee, our favourite meal or the aroma of good wine, yet in the day-to-day hustle we often forget the bigger picture. We don’t allow ourselves to breathe properly or allow ourselves to appreciate the way our bodies interact with the environment because we are too busy to notice or there is too much happening at once and we can’t focus.

To re-engage with the world around you it’s important to make an effort to block out distractions in order to sharpen the focus of your attention on the pleasure itself. If you take the time to focus on one thing at a time, you will heighten your experiences and feel a greater sense of pleasure and joy.

Belly laugh

Outwardly expressing positive feelings can intensify them by providing our minds with tangible evidence that we are, in fact, happy. In several experiments conducted by Bryant, people instructed to express their feelings in observable ways while watching a funny video reported more enjoyment than people instructed not to express their feelings. In other words, “putting on a happy face” may actually help you feel more positive.

Prepare yourself

While it may seem contradictory to the ideas of positivity and hope, researchers suggest that imagining the worst-case scenario of situations can actually make us happier and allow us to savour our experiences more fully. A frame of reference for measuring the happiness brought about by a particular experience can heighten our joy by increasing our appreciation of our successes.

Imagining worse-case scenarios also allows us to mentally prepare alternative actions to counteract any problems that might arise. This sense of control and confidence also serves to allow us to savour even difficult moments because we can manage them.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a Buddhist technique widely recommended for reducing stress and anxiety, but it can also boost happiness because the practice helps us to savour each and every moment. In mindfulness, it’s important that we don’t judge what is happening to us or around us. Instead, we need to give ourselves up to simply experiencing what is occurring. In this case, though, reflection is best left for after the event. “Savouring through absorption,” suggests Bryant, “involves deliberately avoiding mental reflection in favour of simply experiencing the ongoing positive event as it is unfolding.”

Thank you

Gratitude is becoming more and more significant in the field of positive psychology because it reminds us of all the good things we have in our lives, things that very often outweigh the negative. For gratitude to be effective, we need to be thankful for all we currently have and let go of the frustrations associated with wishing for more. To really benefit from the act of giving thanks, it’s important to be very specific about the things you are grateful for and why you are grateful for them.

Tick tock

While it goes against mindfulness — though different tools suit different situations — being aware of how fleeting time is can motivate us to enjoy the past, present and future to the fullest. “You can savour past good times by reminiscing and rekindling the joy from these memories in the present,” explains Bryant, “and you can savour future good times before they occur by anticipating and imagining the joy you’ll feel when these positive outcomes actually happen.” Imagination, he says, is a useful tool in building happiness because is allows you to remember and to anticipate.

No “buts”

When it comes to feeling happy it’s just as important to avoid thinking negatively as it is to think positively. Research shows that, when we qualify a good experience with “buts” or “shoulds” we reduce the amount of time we feel joy or pleasure. Whether it’s enjoying a personal indulgence, a personal success or a moment of respite, keep your focus. It’s important to avoid the temptation to think about other places you “should” be and other things you “should” be doing.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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