Most of us feel some tangible amount of happiness when we are enjoying a gastronomic, sensual, spiritual, transcendental, drug-induced, religious, artistic, carnal or humanistic pleasure.
The degree of said happiness is largely bound by biological forces—DNA, serotonin, dopamine, neurotransmitter activity—which are interlinked to situational factors—physical setting, mood, people present, etc. Despite these important factors, consciousness, our most precious gift, allows us to pause, reflect, and enjoy based on agency, rather than whim.
We can make great use of our gift in many wonderful ways. Namely, we get to exercise greater degrees of control over the magnitude of how much an experience feels enjoyable–much more so than our lovely ancestors ever did. Despite at first appearing to be an automatic and reflexive impulse, one of our greatest ‘degrees’ of control is our ability to savour an experience.
A pleasurable experience is first savoured unconsciously and immediately by our primordial brain, without any real contemplation. The focus of this article is not regarding this response. It is mechanical and necessary.
The real pursuit here and the purpose of this article is regarding the amount of conceivable pleasure latent in every experience that isn’t mechanical and automatic. It’s about noticing the various short bursts of satisfaction that are sprinkled throughout our lives and taking a conscious measure to prolong them. Getting there and exploring this latent pleasure is one of the many focuses of this website and of a self-actualised life. So let’s go ahead and unpack this whole deliberate savouring thing.
What’s Deliberate Savouring All About?
Deliberate savouring is the ability to better observe and prolong the pleasure offered by a net-positive experience. This is achieved through conscious means and transforms short-lived gratification into longer lasting contentment.
What exactly, then, are these ‘conscious means’? These are the cultivated and deliberate mindsets that can polish the looking glass through which we see and experience the world. These mindsets grow and develop largely like muscles do at the gym: through repeated practice and a dedication to consistency.
We can strengthen these mindsets by practicing deliberate savouring. The idea here is to learn how to cultivate the ability to savour things for longer amounts of time and dabble in positive mental states more frequently than negative ones.
One important caveat. It is critical not to latch onto positive experiences so much so that the tendency to do so evolves into craving and dependence. Excessive craving is synonymous with addiction, which brings its own share of obvious problems.
Deliberate savouring without excessive craving is the aim. A honed ability to better savour the various platters of life’s ever-changing menu can transform the most commonplace dullness into a rewarding mental state.
And since nobody likes eating 5 day-old leftovers, augmenting our ability to savour, is a worthwhile pursuit. The following are some helpful ways to introduce the art of savouring into our lives:
Deliberate deprivation. Paradoxically, there is great liberation to be found in the intentional, temporary removal of the things we enjoy. Overexposure leads to under appreciation: as soon as something becomes ingrained in our daily life and routine it will eventually develop into a need or expectation. This can be reversed by introducing a brief ‘ban,’ in order to make having it again more appealing. A week long fast will provide a renewed appreciation for the simplest foods. 10 days spent in silence (thank you Vipassana) will make socialisation seem like the greatest treasure. Essentially: deliberately deprive now in order to savour more later.
Pay attention to minute details. Many experiences are layered with great complexity, yet our tendency is to observe only the superficial elements of them. It is incredibly enriching to cast our net of attention on a broader experiential target, and begin to absorb more of the dormant details that require a little extra attention. A walk through the woods is the forgiving texture of soil beneath our every step; a subtle fragrance of earthy aromas, accentuated by the rainfall the night before; the perfect harmony, felt viscerally, of the unimaginably complex ecosystem we temporarily occupy.
Treat our ‘future’ self. Even unpleasant experiences can be reframed into positive ones by realigning present discomfort into future reward. Flossing, going to sleep on time, and reading a challenging text can all seem burdensome, but they don’t have to be. By reframing these activities as building blocks for a healthier future self, potential opportunities for deliberate savouring are unlocked. Each horizontal swipe between one’s teeth with the floss now becomes the careful defense of a future smile. Going to sleep earlier is the generous lending of extra waking hours the following day. The challenging text is a mental battle in which the victor is an extra soldier in your future arena of knowledge.
Engage every possible sense. Many sensual experiences that focus on one particular sense have the potential to engage other dormant ones, too. We just have to look for ways to involve them by consciously uprooting them. A delicious meal is more than just the obvious exploration of the sense of taste and smell. A pan-fried salmon filet is also a delightful display for the sense of sight: a rainbow of interlocked spices, charred sear marks and a visual promise of a full stomach. The waning sound of cooked butter as the dish is transferred from skillet to plate excites our sense of hearing and builds anticipation. The sense of touch can be consciously appreciated by noting how the resistance-free tenderness of the flesh succumbs to the perfect symbiosis of knife and fork. Deliberately paying attention to each additional sense through deliberate savouring provides an additional layer of gastronomically satisfying depth.
Seek tiny moments of gratitude. A cultivated appreciation for conscious experience, expressed silently through gratitude, is a secret way to refine one’s ability to savour. Every single day, no matter how monotonous or dreadful, offers tiny slithers of time to practice a bit of gratitude. A quick walk through the park is much more than a mindless path on some overlooked grass: it’s a chance to be thankful for the correct allocation of tax dollars well spent; the foresight necessary to plant an abundance of trees; a public area that fosters community and sharing of space; an array of patterns and visual, earthy delights to contrast the boring concrete next door, etc… Consciously harvesting these small reflections will foster the ability to better savour ordinary life.
Stay as mindful as possible as often as possible. Breathe. Slow down. Focus on the immediate. The present moment is abundant with lavish opportunities to reward our consciousness, but only if we let it. Meditation helps retrain the brain to focus greater amounts of attention on what’s happening now. Many of life’s smallest pleasures offer frequent, easily overlooked opportunities to practice the art of savouring. A warm shower is a torrent of controlled gushing water set to a precise temperature of our liking, penetrating every pore on our skin, liberating us momentarily from the soreness of quotidian life.
Control our pleasure ceiling. Happiness and pleasure tend to normalize over time, no matter how extravagant or luscious an experience can be. Our brain’s perception of pleasure is relative to its highest possible experienced “ceiling.” An overexposure to novelty will very quickly make the most exciting mundane. It is therefore essential to control the amount of extravagance and luxury that saturate our lives, moderating our pleasure ceilings. Never-ending grandeur will make it tremendously harder to enjoy simpler, cheaper and more basic things and experiences.
Distraction free experiences. There is a constant battle for our attention as consumers. Constantly flashing sidebar ads that follow us as wescroll down the page, mandatory 15 second YouTube ads (get this if you don’t have it already), and most perniciously, a bombardment of constant notifications from social media, gaming and messaging apps from our phones are all the norm. We must make the stoic effort to give undivided attention when the situation merits it, especially in the appreciation of art. A proper cinematic experience, for example, ought to be accompanied by the silent/airplane mode offered by our device. Undistracted attentiveness will unlock the key to catching subtleties in the story arc, paying attention to beautiful cinematographic choices and internalising the suggested mood.
Set lower expectations: We are prone to dramatize and overinflate the pleasure found in potential future experiences way before they occur. Many times these potential experiences, once actualised, under-deliver, under-perform and under-impress. A vast disparity between expectation and reality will leave even the most disciplined observer’s palette feeling dry, and is an all but guaranteed way to impair the ability to practice the art of savouring. This can often leave us, at best, disappointed and frustrated and, at worst, drained and apathetic. It need not be so. The simplest solution is to set lower expectations, which pre-emptively destroys the hypothetical gap between ‘expected’ and ‘lived’ outcomes. This means greater experiential room to focus on savouring the present moment, in whatever form it comes in, free from the bias of unrealistic expectations.
Life is nothing more than a collection of mental states. Each mental state, generally speaking, falls somewhere on the spectrum of hellish to divine, with ‘neutral’ ‘good’ and ‘bad’ being somewhere in middle. The amount of joy and visceral pleasure we extract from every mental state, no matter how trivial or life-changing, has directly to do with our ability to deliberately savour it.
The most overlooked nooks and crannies of human conscious experience are underscored with subtle opportunities to practice deliberate savouring. Uncovering these opportunities requires masterful detection and an obligation to noticing the tiniest nuances of the present moment. The art of savouring is life-long pursuit and a rewarding commitment to maximising the experiential satisfaction hidden within many moments.