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Critical Gerontology, Communications, Later life, Savoring, Gerontology, Aging,

Savoring as a Beneficial Practice for Later Life by Maggie Pitts

January 5th, 2018

Written by Maggie Pitts

Take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Let your mind drift back to a favorite memory or a recent pleasurable experience. Hold that image still in your mind and try to walk around inside of it. Try to relish in the memory and recall the moment as if it were happening now. What are the sights? The sounds? The tastes and smells? What can you feel? If you are deriving pleasure from recalling those pleasurable experiences, then you are savouring. That’s a good thing!

Savoring is the process of (1) identifying a pleasant experience, (2) noticing that you are feeling pleasure about that experience, and then (3) feeling good about feeling pleasure. In other words, savouring is feeling pleasure beyond pleasure. Savoring plays an important role in human flourishing by generating positive feelings (Bryant & Veroff, 2007). Positive emotions serve as protection from acute and chronic daily stressors and are especially important in later life. Positive emotions accumulate and compound over time working to “broaden” individuals’ mind-set and “build” physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources and resilience (Fredrickson, 2001; Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002). Positive emotions also have an “undoing” effect on negative emotions by reducing the salience of any given negative event (Fredrickson, 2001).

Savoring is a beneficial practice because it allows people to identify, augment, and prolong their positive emotions resulting in protective benefits in the present and in the future. This can be particularly beneficial for older adults. Indeed, current research on the effects of savoring for adults aged 60+ suggests adhering to a daily savoring routine can improve perceptions of resilience and happiness and reduce depressive symptoms (Smith & Hanni, 2017). Another study showed that older adults with a high capacity to savor positive life experiences also had higher levels of happiness, greater life satisfaction, and lower levels of depression (Smith & Hollinger-Smith, 2015).

As a positive communication scholar (see Pitts & Socha, 2013), I am particularly interested in types of everyday communication that can enhance quality of life. Savoring is a psychological and communicative activity that enhances quality of life by allowing individuals to focus on what is “going right” in the present moment (present moment savoring). Savoring also allows individuals to transcend the present moment and mentally travel to the past (past savoring) as well as to the future (anticipatory savoring) to generate pleasure in the moment (Bryant & Veroff, 2007).

Present moment savoring heightens and prolongs pleasurable experiences – making good things even better. The mental attention necessary for savoring the moment also draws attention away from negative or neutral stimuli and emotional states. In this way, savoring allows individuals to capitalize on what is good in the moment and buffers against the negative – a particularly beneficial skill for people who are experiencing later life changes in employment, relationships, and health, for example. Ask yourself, what can I delight in right now? When you are experiencing stress or engaging in a difficult encounter, look for even the smallest things to delight in – a loved one who recognizes you as you, if even for a moment; inspiring a genuine smile or bubbling laugher from a child; a warm mug of coffee in your hands.

Next, consider savoring the past. As individuals accrue life experiences, they can draw from those experiences in retrospect and derive meaning and pleasure from them. In this way, older adults may have a savoring advantage over children and younger adults because of the accrual of positive life experiences to draw from in times of distress. Also, older adults have had more opportunities to engage in (practice) savoring and to expand, diversify, and adapt their savoring repertoires across the lifespan (Bryant, Chadwick, & Kluwe, 2011). Ask yourself, what bright moment or pleasurable experience would I like to relive? What would it feel like to bite into a sweet, fresh ear of corn on a summer day?

Now, consider the future. Savoring promotes positive emotions and positive emotions stimulate savoring – especially savoring the future (Fredrickson, 2013). It is particularly important that as we age we continue to invest in our future by showing interest, anticipating future delights, and building future relationships. Anticipatory savoring allows individuals to derive pleasure in the present moment by imagining a future experience and calling forth the positive emotions associated with that experience (Bryant & Veroff, 2007). Ask yourself, what do I look forward to in my future? An evening shared with friends or a loved one? Hazy sunbeams drifting across a warm cozy bed on a cool fall morning? Family gathering for the holiday and the smells of heritage family recipes wafting through the air?

What do people savor? People savor sensory experiences (Bryant & Veroff, 2007) – touching the soft, perfect skin of a newborn grandchild or smelling the salty air of a favorite coastal hideaway. People savor relationships where they relish in the good times shared with people they love – a first kiss, a moonlight stroll (Borelli, Rasmussen, Burkhart, & Sbarra, 2015; Burkhart, Borelli, Rasmussen, & Sbarra, 2015). My own research on positive communication shows that people also savor communication – words and phrases that tickle something within or meaningful talk that moves people closer together. I have defined communication savoring as the deliberate process of attending to and deriving pleasure from verbal and nonverbal messages in current, remembered, or imagined interactions and I identified seven common types of communication savoring: aesthetic communication, communication presence, nonverbal communication, recognition and acknowledgement, relational communication and disclosures, rare and novel communication moments, and implicitly shared communication (Pitts, 2016). Savoring through communication can build personal and relational resilience. Sharing savored experiences has additional intergenerational benefits. Grandparents and other older adults can play an important role in fostering savoring capacity in children by modeling savouring behaviours and communicating about savored experiences (Bryant & Veroff, 2007).

Savoring is a beneficial practice across the lifespan because it allows us to appreciate the mundane and celebrate the exceptional from physical sensations and relationships to everyday talk. Savoring allows us to identify and prolong pleasure in the moment, but also to travel across time to re-experience treasured moments from our earlier life as well as to delight in imagining the future. Savoring is one way to broaden and build upon positive communication resources and repertoires necessary for the development of quality of life and relational resilience (see Fredrickson, 2001).

References

Borelli, J. L., Rasmussen, H. F., Burkhart, M. L., & Sbarra, D. A. (2015). Relational savoring in long-distance romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 1083-1108. doi:10.1177/0265407514558960

Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bryant, F. B., Chadwick, E. D., & Kluwe, K. (2011). Understanding the processes that regulate positive emotional experience: Unsolved problems and future directions for theory and research on savoring. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1, 107-126. doi:10.5502/ijw.v1i1.18

Burkhart, M. L., Borelli, J. L., Rasmussen, H. F., & Sbarra, D. (2015). Cherish the good times: Relational savoring in parents of infants and toddlers. Personal Relationships, 22, 692-711. doi: 10.1111/pere.12104

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 53, 218-226.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotions broaden and build. In In P. Devine & A. Plant (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 47 (pp. 1-53), Burlington: Academic Press.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13, 172-175.

Pitts, M. J. (2016). Communication savoring. Presidential Address at the 15th International Conference on Language and Social Psychology held in Bangkok, Thailand, June 22-25th, 2016.

Pitts, M. J., & Socha, T. (Eds.) (2013). Positive communication in health and wellness. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Smith, J. L., & Hanni, A. A. (2017). Effects of a savoring intervention on resilience and well-being of older adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, on line first. doi: 10.1177/0733464817693375

Smith, J. L., & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging and Mental Health, 19, 192-200. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2014.986647


Critical Gerontology, Communications, Later life, SavoringMaggie Pitts (PhD, Penn State) is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona (https://comm.arizona.edu/user/maggie-pitts). She is also President of the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (www.ialsp.org). She pursues research in the area of positive communication – communication that enhances, facilitates, and generates positive experiences, positive emotions, and positive relationships. Currently she is developing a working model of savoring as a positive communication strategy. She is co-editor on the first ever volumes of positive communication The Positive Side of Interpersonal Communication (Socha & Pitts, Eds., 2012) and Positive Communication in Health and Wellness (Pitts & Socha, Eds., 2013).

 

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