A client with chronic illness came in beaming. He had been given a significant scholarship to a program he had been longing to be part of, but never thought he could afford.
“It’s incredible,” he marveled, “I was chosen and I didn’t even have to work that hard!”
Then as quickly as he told me his good news, he was ready to rush on to the next ‘problem’ – but I suggested he tell me more about the win, and talked about deliberately slowing down to enjoy the details.
I introduced the concept of savoring.
We spent some time celebrating that he was able to go and learn and build community with a group he had admired, and now was joining.
We were savoring his good news.
It takes practice to pause and allow the good to soak in. It is going against the grain of our biology which has a “negativity bias” built in to our systems.
Survival was based on noticing where things went wrong – and even anticipating that they would. How else did we learn to save the harvest, look out for predators, and focus on potential disasters?
We can hear this in fables like the grasshopper and the ant. These stories remind us to work hard and look out for where disaster can strike. The fear goes deeply into our collective and individual psyches.
When we live with an unpredictable and painful illness, our propensity to focus on the negative only increases. Because so much is scary and not to our liking.
But, not everything.
There are some glimmers and maybe even some wonderful gifts that arrive – but if we are not practicing pausing and savoring, we will miss the moments of goodness.
Because the painful or bad things in life are so powerful in our nervous systems, the deliberate rehashing of good things is necessary so we can build some inner peace, and even joy.
Soaking in the good can take the form of enjoying. Noticing what is going well in your environment, in times with friends and family, a beautiful sunset. Enjoying a taste of something delicious, a laugh, a snuggle.
The practice can also include remembering. Using your imagination to return to an event, a time or place that held particular meaning. A vacation spot you love, a pet you depended on in your childhood, a holiday that went just right.
A third way to practice is to appreciate. This is a slight tweak on the practice of gratitude. Appreciating is a rich mindset that can see goodness in so many places. The way the sunlight falls on the flowers on the table, the face of a friend, a new idea or insight – all of these can be appreciated when we adjust our attention in that direction.
We will get pulled – automatically – back to the negative.
My client and I spent twenty minutes on the story of his scholarship, savoring how something unexpectedly turned up on the positive side of the ledger. We demonstrated and experienced the savoring.
It was time well spent.
The practices of savoring, enjoying remembering and appreciating can counterbalance our biology and make our lives more content and deepen our experience of happiness.
As always, let me know how it goes with you.