I was getting ready to teach my next professional development on gratitude and happiness. To prepare, I was happily reviewing some of my favorite books on positive psychology, when I opened Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, “The How of Happiness”.
In this book there is an activity called the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic. This test is specifically designed to bring your awareness and attention to intentional strategies that are best suited for you to increase your overall happiness. Strategies include activities such as expressing gratitude and savoring life’s joys.
As I reviewed this activity, I was reminded that research has shown that 40% of your overall happiness is determined by intentional activities, so it serves you to know which activities you naturally gravitate toward and create strategies that work them into your life. If you haven’t had the opportunity to take the test, you really should. You can find it here.
When I took the test a few years back, I discovered that the act of replaying and savoring life’s joys is an activity that brings me a huge amount of happiness. Now I intentionally incorporate this practice into my daily life. For me, savoring feels natural.
Here’s how Lyubomirsky explains how to savor in the past, future, and present.
Reliving past experiences that generated a positive emotion seems logical for increasing one’s happiness. Recalling the previous sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of an event will stimulate the neurological memory of the event and activate joyful emotional centers of the brain.
With practice and training, we can even apply this process to negative experiences. By finding things to be grateful about in the lessons learned as a direct result of the negative events. Even traumatic events such as divorce, bankruptcy and major illnesses can provide us with opportunities for savoring and gratitude.
All it takes is a moment of honesty with yourself and you will soon identify a few positive outcomes. Ask yourself, how has this event benefited you as a person and how have you grown?
With time and repetition, you will be able to reframe and re-label many perceived negative experiences into events that you can savor!
Fantasizing about a future positive event is easy and you probably find yourself doing it every day. From dreaming about lunch to imagining the birth of your child, visualizing positive future outcomes activates complex neural networks in your brain that create positive emotions.
Next time you catch yourself fantasizing about the future, notice your body. Are you smiling? Is your heart beating faster? These are signs that you are savoring the future. Keep it up, this is one of the easiest for all of us.
This one is tricky. Being connected to your present experiences, in the moment, deep enough to notice your thoughts and to intensify the positive emotions long enough for you to savor the experience difficult for two different reasons:
1) you need to cultivate mindfulness and
2) you need to look for the positive, not the negative.
Unfortunately, various cultures have trained us to focus on the negative instead of the positive. It takes deliberate and conscious training to slow down life and notice the small things, so savoring in the present moment doesn’t come naturally for most of us.
To counteract this, we must simplify our lives, reducing our distractions, and enhancing our mindfulness to bring back the extraordinary into our ordinary lives. Notice the warmth and comfort of a winter fire opposed to the cold weather outside. Savoring the sights, sounds, smells and positive emotions while staying in the moment is a skill worth achieving.