Life is full of goodbyes. Think about all of the things and people we bid farewell to over the course of a lifetime: friends, spouses, parents, jobs, homes, schools, cars, pets, vacations, developmental stages, personal milestones… The list goes on and on, and it can be incredibly challenging to honor and meaningfully let go of the past. Furthermore, the ability to shift your attention to the future and look forward to new possibilities and opportunities can be significantly hindered when we are still mourning what feels like a loss. So how can we put the GOOD back into goodbye?
Research from the field of positive psychology suggests that savoring, mindfully engaging in thoughts or behaviors that heighten the effect of positive events on positive feelings, is a particularly effective strategy (Bryant & Veroff, 2007). Usually we think about savoring a delicious meal or a fine glass of wine. But it turns out that intentionally savoring just about anything can produce positive outcomes like increased positive emotions, deeper gratitude, greater mindfulness, as well as enhanced engagement and meaning (Bryant 1989; Bryant 2003; Bryant & Veroff, 2007; Bryant, Smart & King, 2005).
For some, savoring is a cognitive experience (recalling and thinking about memories) while for others, savoring is a sensory experience (engaging with mementos or photographs). One of the most practical factors of savoring is its temporal flexibility—meaning that you can actually savor the past, the present or even the future! The three temporal forms of savoring include anticipating (looking forward to a positive event), savoring in the moment (intensifying and prolonging enjoyment of a current experience), reminiscing (looking back to rekindle positive feelings). Ultimately, savoring moves us from experience to positive emotion.
But what good are positive emotions, anyway? Certainly we know that negative emotions (like fear and anger) are evolutionary life-savers that help us to avoid danger and make important game-time decisions. Only recently, though, has research from Barb Fredrickson explained the value of increasing positive emotions. According to the Broaden and Build Theory, positive emotions expand one’s outlook and imagination to a wider range of possibilities while building the psychology, social and physical resources that are necessary for overcoming everyday challenges (Fredrickson, 2009). In other words, the positive emotions that are cultivated through savoring can bolster our ability to cope with loss while simultaneously expanding our ability to envision new positive experiences in the future. Good deal, no?
So, how can make savoring a habit? Consider the amount of time and energy we spend ruminating on the pain, sadness and longing associated with goodbye. Rumination has developed a nasty reputation, as it is most often associated with anxiety or depression. But what would happen if we focused on positive rumination, going over the pleasures and joys of the past frequently and intentionally? In order to support you in increasing your savoring and improving your overall well-being, check out the go-to strategies listed below!
Top 10 Savoring Strategies:
1. Share your good feelings with others: seeking out others to share experience with and thinking about re-living a memory through sharing
2. Take a mental picture: actively storing images for future recall, “mental photographs,” form vivid images
3. Congratulate yourself: cognitive basking, telling yourself how proud or impressed others are, most common in response to achievements and personal successes
4. Compare the outcome to something else or something worse: contrasting your own feelings with feelings of others, comparing to past experiences, downward comparison
5. Sharpen your sensory perceptions: intensifying pleasure by focusing on certain stimuli and screening out others, concentration, positive vigilance—slowing down
6. Get absorbed in the moment: trying not to think, mindfulness without cognitive reflection, intellectual association
7. Express yourself: laughing, jumping for joy, outward physical manifestation – speeding up
8. Remember that time flies: reminding self how fleeting the moment is, telling oneself that one must enjoy it now – bittersweet moments
9. Acknowledge gratitude: counting your blessings and giving thanks
10. Avoid kill-joy thinking: refraining from upward comparisons, negative self-talk, etc.
(Based on information from Karen Reivich’s MAPP onsite lecture, April 26, 2014).
Bryant, F. B. (1989). A four-factor model of perceived control: Avoiding, coping,
obtaining, and savoring. Journal of Personality, 57(4), 773-797.
Bryant, F. B. (2003). Savoring beliefs inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs
about savoring. Journal of Mental Health, 12(2), 175-196.
Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present:
Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 227-260 .
Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The
broaden-and- build theory of positive emotions. The American Psychologist, 56(3),