Ah, happiness – the holy grail! It is the one thing everyone wants. After all, we live and breathe, work and save, hope, and wish for – Happiness.
And what you do when an event, interaction, situation, or person makes you happy? Do you let it sit with you, think about it, or relieve it? Or do you take it as a fleeting moment of pleasantness and let it pass through?
Our brain is hardwired to change according to our experiences, says Dr. Rick Hanson. Neuroplasticity is key. From the time we are born, our brain is evolving to accommodate all our learning. And learning involves physical changes to the body, as learning is lasting.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. Thus new connections are constantly formed and existing ones changed. So what if we hardwired our brain for happiness?
What if we took the small sweet moments of ordinary life where we feel safe, seen, and understood – to dwell a little, to savor and cherish them so our brain changes neuron by neuron to make new stronger connections filled with happy, calm, soulful, and peaceful moments.
And it takes 3 steps according to Dr Hanson to begin this wiring:
- Take a breath with it
- Feel it in your body
- Focus your attention on it
So when I am having a meaningful conversation with my spouse or we are reminiscing good old memories – I can take a deep breath to not be rushed at the moment, feel the fullness in my heart of being understood and focus on being fully present with him and my deep connection at the moment.
And now, every time I have these conversations and I practice these steps, interaction after interaction my brain will begin to associate with him warm fuzzy feelings, happiness, and love. (Also when any negative interaction happens I have a strong defense ready) – more on that later!
So let’s dwell and describe different approaches to Maximize Long-Lasting Happiness :
When I first think of savouring – it would be savouring a really good piece of chocolate in my mouth! Really feeling the luxurious texture, the svelte flavor, and the gorgeous aroma…I am salivating already;)
But we aren’t talking about chocolate!
But in a similar way, we are intentionally doubling any happy, positive, pleasant experience my marinating, dwelling, and cherishing it. It is something that happens on top of the actual experience. We are consciously thinking, reflecting, and focusing on it. We are savouring the experience to maximize/intensify the feeling of happiness, calm, love, and peace.
According to researchers, Fred Bryant & Joe Veroff, there are 6 factors which affect the intensity of the enjoyment experienced:
Imagine you are having a 5-course meal dinner. Would you like the courses to come out immediately one after the other, or would you like to take your time to enjoy each course at leisure? Feel the textures in your mouth, enjoy the sublime flavors, and soak in the overall experience.
So length and pace matter to intensify savouring. Do you want to be rushed or take a moment to absorb and enjoy the present?
According to Bryant & Veroff, savouring usually occurs in periods of low stress. Think of holidays, family getaways, and also on completion of high-stress projects.
Naturally, we are less likely to absorb and relax whilst meeting deadlines. But imagine you have just completed your examinations or a high-stress deal and now you have given yourself some time off.
You are more likely to be grateful for the low stress and relaxed pace, thus savouring it more than usual.
This means to heighten a particular experience by experiencing it in different ways or modes. For example, you run or exercise while listening to music. The experience is heightened with energetic music.
Similarly, doing meditation with calming music may enhance your experience or dancing while singing along. Basically, having a multi-sensory experience to intensify the feeling.
It means the more we can attend to the experience, the more we can savor it. For example, imagine you are having a sundowner party on a sunset cruise. You are enjoying the fabulous ambiance, company, and food. You are feeling the light breeze, loving the frivolous banter and basking in the glory of it all.
Definitely an experience to remember!
Now imagine you have had a fight with your spouse earlier. You are not paying attention to what your friends are saying as your mind is reminiscing the fight. You also have a big presentation tomorrow which you are very anxious about and cannot really focus on anything. Is this an experience worth remembering?
Thus, as our attention loses focus, so does our enjoyment and savouring of that experience.
The opposite of the above is forcing yourself to enjoy an experience – to keep on announcing that you are happy and convincing yourself and others of the same.
So take baby steps to enjoy something outside of your comfort zone. Let it marinate with your senses. Enjoy it one bit at a time thus not causing a sensory overload. Keep a slow and relaxed pace.
If sharing happiness doubles it then sharing it with the right people quadruples it. These are the people who matter and sharing a wonderful experience with them like a classic date and later reminiscing about it will surely intensify the experience.
Also, when you share a positive experience with someone who really listens attentively, honors and supports you, and is more excited than you to celebrate it, the relationship and the experience both deepen.
Well, they don’t say that for nothing, happiness is the only thing which doubles by sharing! And I would like to add multiplies by savouring!
(For more on how to deepen bonds by sharing the good news, please read my article: What is the key to happy relationships?)
So we spoke about how to maximize happiness by savouring an experience and key factors that influence this. Now let’s talk about 4 basic ways we generally tend to savour.
First, let us focus on world-focused where our experience is in relation to others or something outside of ourselves.
This is when we give thanks and are grateful for all the positives in our life. It could be gratefulness for the food we eat and the air we breathe, to the time spent with loved ones. It could also be being grateful for averted danger and the fact that it could’ve been worse.
An attitude of gratitude helps us savour events, people, and life in general, thus building a more positive hardwiring in our brain.
Simply means to be in awe of. It could in awe of the majesty of nature, having a deeply spiritual experience to soaking in a splendid work of historic art or music.
Being someone who is in awe of all of the above-mentioned experiences I can surely say that they enrich the quality of my life.
Now we turn to self-focused savouring. It means experiencing something within ourselves connected to our talents, our personality, our behavior, or our physical body.
This is feelings of pride in achieving goals and any personal victories. It does not mean boasting about your achievements but reminding yourself of how far you have come.
Sometimes it serves us well in times of self-doubt to remind ourselves of past victories. Also, when you achieve a milestone it does well to take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back for all the hard work & effort put it. These practices do well to ensure high self-esteem and self-compassion.
Luxuriating is savoring pleasure. Specifically, sensory experiences. Take, for instance, my chocolate example. Really feel the flavors exploding in your mouth and feeling more happier with every bite. This is also why food that is beautifully presented is extra delicious. It is a treat for the eyes and the mouth.
Some other examples include wearing very soft and silky clothes that feel like luxury on the skin, beautiful silken bedsheets, calming soulful music, artistic works which is a treat for the eyes and even feeling grass or waves under your feet.
So give yourself a treat & luxuriate!
Savouring is the first approach to maximizing happiness in our lives. This week, reflect on moments you can savour from your life to maximize happiness. Next week we will be discussing the next approach to happiness as given by Dr. Rick Hanson called Enriching & Absorbing.
Read the article : Maximizing Happiness In Life – Part 2
To conclude, thinking deeply about happy moments will definitely make you happier and slowly hardwire your brain to maximize happiness!