Memoir Essay: On Savoring the Moment

wbpancakes and syrup

By Dave Hood

“Read as you taste fruit or savor wine, or enjoy friendship, love or life.”—George Herbert

Several years ago, I went through one hell of a time. During that time, I learned a great deal about how to improve my happiness and life satisfaction. I read many books in the field of Positive Psychology, such as Martin Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow,” “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky, and “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. Afterwards I implemented the advice of what I’d read. I discovered that one of the easiest ways to add pleasure or joy to my life was by learning how to savor the moment.

Savoring requires that you experience the present moment as it unfolds–paying attention to what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Creative writers would tell you to make note of the “sensory details.” Savoring is any thought or behavior that “generates, enhances, or prolongs enjoyment” (The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky).  Savoring is focusing positive emotions associated with a positive experience, mindfully appreciating the delight of a positive moment, such as a gorgeous sunset or the sweet taste of ice cream. We can learn to savor the past, the present, or the future—so long as the memories or expected results are positive. I learned to increase my pleasure and enjoyment of life by developing the habit of savoring.

How Can We Learn to Savor a Positive Moment? 
I’ve learned to savor by doing the following: First, simplify your life. In other words, stop multitasking. Instead, do one thing at a time. For instance, I’ve discarded the table and smartphone, and then gained more pleasure by listening on my stereo to the jazz music, such as the CD “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis or “Unity Band” by Pat Metheny.

Next, slow your life down to a lower gear. Don’t be like a crazy maniac screaming with impatience in his car in a traffic jam on the highway. Stop racing through life, in a rush to complete each task. I’ve learned that you can slow by doing what is important and not what is urgent. For instance, instead of waiting for a toothache to see the dentist, go for a regular checkup. In other words, don’t leave things until the last moment. Each day, write down a list of tasks you wish to accomplish. Prioritize each task. Do them one at a time, trying to enjoy the task. If you don’t have time, postpone the chore to the next day, or delegate it to someone else. Give yourself enough time to complete the task. If you must be at work for a particular time, plan for commuting delays, and leave early.

Thirdly, pay attention by noticing the sensory details of your life—becoming aware of what you see, what you smell, what you taste, what you hear, what you feel. I’ve learned to savor an invigorating walk, by observing the scenery, listening to the birds sing, feeling how relaxed I become from the exercise of walking. Whenever I sip a rye and seven, I savor its sweet refreshing taste. At the art gallery, I’ll stand in front of a painting I like and absorb the elements of art—lines, shapes, colours, textures, patterns, and contemplate its meaning.

Fourthly, I’ve discovered that when I don’t judge or evaluate an experience, such as a conversation with a friend, I enjoy it more. I just listen, relax, pay attention, to what is before me, what is stimulating my senses. For instance, when I see a film at the cinema, I become thoroughly absorbed in each scene, watching the action unfold, making a mental note of the special effects, taking in the mis en scene, listening to the musical score and dialogue from characters, while sipping a cold, refreshing coke and salty popcorn. And this is why film is such a delightful pleasure. When visiting the art gallery, I focus on the intriguing details of the sculpture, painting, or installation, marveling at its color, form, shape, texture, craftsmanship, expression of creativity, without judging the artwork negatively.

Finally, after a pleasant or enjoyable experience, I always reflect or ponder the experience, focusing on the positive details. By doing this, I’m able to stretch the positive emotions of the enjoyable experience. For instance, the other day, with my digital camera, I traveled to Cherry Beach in Toronto during a snow storm, where I took pictures of winter. Afterwards, I reflected on this experience—I enjoyed the adventure, the surreal, dreamlike quality of walking in the snow on the beach, snapping photographs in the of bared trees, the fog of blowing snow, solitary life guard stand,  ducks on the half-frozen lake, other people walking in solitude with their dogs.

I distance myself from any person or experience that is not enjoyable or pleasurable. As far as I’m concerned, to torture myself with boredom or irritation is just wasting time. This boredom or irritation prevents me from savoring life, which seems to pass as fast as a ride on some high speed roller coaster at Disneyland.

How Not to Savor?
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that there are several mental blocks that will prevent savoring. Anger and resentment can create toxicity in our lives, preventing us from savoring the moment. And so, to savor, to really savor the present moment of your life, you must “let go.” “Let it be,” as the Beatles sang so many years ago, and the Buddhist wisdom teaches us.

Self-criticism will prevent you from savoring. It’s best to ignore the internal critic in your mind, and focus on the sensory details of the positive experience—those positive sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations that provide delight or joy.

Living life lost in thought, worried about the future, dwelling on the past will also poison moments that can be savored. If you are lost in thought, you often miss the pretty woman passing or the birds singing.

As well, the conditions of your life can make savoring very difficult. Poor health can also prevent us from savoring. If you’re sick, you are distracted by mental or physical pain. Often, a person just wants to escape to a safe, restful place. That is why good health should be our number one goal in life.

A stressful life can also prevent you from savoring the moment. Deadlines are distractions and a huge source of pressure. It’s best to minimize stress as best you can by prioritizing, delegating, simplifying your life. Do what is important, not what is urgent.

Routine can also prevent us from savoring. Most of us become bored with routine, which leads to mindlessness. That is why it’s important to do something new on a regular basis. Author Julia Cameron in her book “The Artist’s Way,” tells us to schedule an artistic date with yourself each week: Visiting the art gallery, perusing the magazines in the bookstore, taking a painting course, and so forth. And when you engage in the activity, give it your full attention. I enjoy learning something new on a regular basis. A few weeks ago, I immersed myself in an enjoyable read on creativity, focusing on understanding the process of creativity and how to generate new ideas.

What Can You Learn to Savor in Life?
You can savor anything that provides the positive emotion of pleasure or joy. I’ve learned that there are many things in our fleeting lives that can provide pleasure or joy. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to savor life:

Always celebrate your successes, whenever you achieve or accomplish something that is valuable or important to you. For instance, if you earned promotion, scored a goal in the pickup hockey game, graduated from university, be sure to go out and celebrate. Make it an extraordinary experience.

Listen to delightful sounds. Put on some inspirational music, and then listen to the music with full attention. I’ve discovered some amazing Jazz. Some of my favorites are Yo-Yo Ma and Miles Davis and Philip Glass, Neil Young. If you are really inspired, get up and dance to the vibrant music.

Read some book of wisdom, or book of useful knowledge, or piece of creative writing, such as poem, short story, essay, memoir. After you finished reading, reflect on what you have learned or enjoyed from reading.

Learn to meditate for ten minutes or more each day. It will clear and calm your mind, as well as help you to become mindful.

When you’re not working, fill your life with enjoyable leisure pursuits, activities that result in a mental state of “flow.”For me, the creative pursuits of photography and writing establish this mental state.

If you are religious or spiritual, read an uplifting passage from a book of wisdom. Afterwards, contemplated the passage, then live your day by this wisdom. You can also do the same by reading and reflecting on some inspirational quote each day.

Make fitness part of your regular routine. Learn to do yoga each day. Play a regular game of golf. Join the house league hockey team. Take a walk every day for 30 minutes or more, and listen, observe, feel. For twenty years, I ran long distance. Running was like meditating. Afterwards, I’d feel calm and relaxed—free of tension. I’d sit relaxing, drenched in perspiration, sipping a cold bottle of water, congratulating myself for running the long distance without stopping. Now, I make it a priority to go for a brisk walk for 30 minutes each day. And while I’m walking, I focus on what I see, hear, smell, and relaxing.

Spend time in solitude, free of distractions. As a kid, I enjoyed going for long bike rides in quite surrounding by myself, contemplating my life and focusing on the unfolding setting as I| peddled my 20 speed bike. Both the adventure and exercise added pleasure to my life each weekend. As an adult, I often take a stroll near the beach, along quiet streets, or in the woods at a park near my home.

Listen to the other person when engaged in conversation. In other words, give the other person your undivided attention, instead of texting or talking on your smartphone, or becoming distracted by strangers who pass. Acknowledge that you are listening by nodding or asking follow-up questions. The key is to engage in active listening. I have learned that the best people to engage in conversation with are those who are compassionate, interesting, and humorous.

Learn to savor the taste of things. When you eat that delicious meal, make sure to really taste it.

Learn to savor the smell of desirable fragrances. When I pretty woman with a fragrant perfume passes, I inhale the pleasant fragrance.

Embrace the simple pleasures of life and savor them, such as participating in an interesting conversation,  laughing with a friend, holding hands, French kissing, sitting by the lake and listening to the sound of the waves, strolling in the solitude of the woods, playing with your dogs in the park, writing in your journal.

Savoring is the habit of consciously enjoying or taking pleasure from positive experiences. I’ve learned that that we can increase our satisfaction and happiness in life by savoring positive moments—past moments, present moments, and future moments. We must develop the habit of savoring. It involves simplifying life, slowing down, paying attention to sensory details as they unfold, enhancing the positive experience by focusing on the positive emotions, and then reflecting on the positive experience. There are many things that can add meaning and purpose to our lives, such as meaningful work, loyal friendships, love, enjoyable leisure pursuits, and pleasurable experiences. These experiences will be enhanced if we savor them.  Savoring is a simple, yet powerful habit we can develop, which enables us to focus on the pleasure or joy of those pleasurable experiences. This simple habit will improve the quality of your life and contribute to wellness. If you don’t believe me–try it for yourself.

About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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