116 savoring replay
Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Well, Hey everyone, Aimee here. I just wanted to pop in before Henry also joins in for the special replay episode of savoring. So our element for February is savoring here at Joy Lab. And this is an often sort of dismissed or forgotten or not even thought of element of joy. Yet it is so powerful.
Aimee (2): So this episode, we are focusing on savoring.
So I actually love that this element is still [00:01:00] sort of amidst the season of resolutions. I think of resolutions sort of as though the opposite of savoring. And Henry and I were a bit surprised to see a story in the New York Times recently, and it had this statement in it:
"Here's a New Year's resolution you can keep. Stop dieting and start savoring your food instead."
So don't worry, we are not about to do a weight loss episode here, but the focus on savoring really jumped out at us. So quickly though, I want to define savoring, even though I think we all kind of know what it means.
I like to use a definition from Bryant and Veroff. These are two key researchers who really kind of ignited a lot of this recent research on savoring. And they define savoring as "the capacity to attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences in one's life." Sounds great, right? So it's, you know, this idea of taking our time to fully notice.[00:02:00]
And enjoy something, to get real pleasure from it, to appreciate its goodness, and even play a role in enhancing that appreciation, making the experience even more fantastic. So I think we can all recall a moment when we really savored something, but I'm going to say that most of us don't do it enough.
I know that I don't. And, you know, this is another one of those elements that I'm really focusing on in my own life, so if you're like me, maybe you feel a little bit out of practice with it. And we may not really even appreciate how powerful this seemingly little. element of savoring is.
Henry: Right, so full disclosure, we didn't have all that much appreciation for it ourselves.
So when we were originally planning for all the elements of Joy Lab, we kind of dismissed savoring as just not being quite in the same league as the other elements, [00:03:00] you know, the heavy hitters like gratitude and compassion. But we have been convinced otherwise, and we hope to persuade you to move it up on your list of great things to do in order to bring more joy into your life.
Aimee (2): Yeah, so true. I've worked with these elements and other sort of, um, universal values really my entire career as a way to work with mental health. And savoring was never on my radar until we started doing sort of the deep dive development work for Joy Lab. And I think in my case as well, I mostly conflated savoring with mindfulness, you know, like thinking I had it down, but it's not the same thing.
We'll kind of get into that a little bit more.
Henry: Right, and you know, there's some pretty interesting science and compelling research on this, and we'll get into that more as well. But let's stick with that New York Times article for just a minute. The title of the article was, "To Lose Weight, Use [00:04:00] Your Brain."
Now, it is pretty widely accepted that diets don't often lead to permanent weight loss because it's hard to go against your biology. Your body puts up a pretty big fight if you start depriving it of the calories that it has been accustomed to. So, really strong willpower can give you the upper hand for a while, but long term, the body usually wins.
And as most dieters know, the really hard part is keeping the weight off over time. Now, the author of this article points out that there is a large body of research showing that the techniques using mindful awareness work better than willpower or deprivation. Learning to be more present and enjoy your foods, in other words, savoring, can help you manage what and how much you eat.
Now, I know that just sounds too easy, [00:05:00] but it is built on some pretty sound science.
Aimee (2): Yeah, it really is. And I bet if you've ever listened to this podcast before, you'll know exactly what I'm going to say next, which is: you're wired for it. You know, our ability to savor things is built into each and every one of us. Which means that it's really, really important. Like important from a survival perspective.
The elements we talk about here are practices that have evolved because they have supported the wellbeing and survival of our species and savoring is no different.
Henry: Well, it might be a little different and that is that there is kind of a flaw in our system and I think most of us have experienced it. But before we go there How about if I take just a short detour into Greek mythology?
What do you think?
Aimee (2): Yes, I would love to hear where you're going to go with that, Henry.
Henry: Okay. Do it. So, you remember when Odysseus journeyed home after the Trojan War, [00:06:00] and it took him years and years because he and his crew ran into so many dangerous obstacles. One of them was that they had to navigate their ship through this treacherous, narrow channel.
And not only was it narrow, but on one side There was this six headed sea monster called Scylla. And on the other side, there was a dreadful whirlpool called Cherubdis. Very few ships got through that channel safely. If you went just a little too far in either direction, you know, you're sunk. So you really had to thread the needle.
And Odysseus, who was not Perfect, by any means, did lose a few of his men to the sea monster, but by staying pretty close to the center, they made it through. Now that is a mythic description of what the Greek philosophers called the golden mean, which was really one of their core [00:07:00] principles for living a good life.
On one side is excess, on the other side is deficiency. Both of those are going to give you trouble. So you want to try to go right down the middle.
Aimee (2): It's reminding me of the Buddhist idea of the middle way. You know, you got indulgence on one side and deprivation, finding that path between. So now I'm really interested, Henry, how you're going to tie this back to the science of savoring.
Henry: Okay, so I think, without knowing it, of course, that the Greeks and the Buddhists in ancient times were talking about the dopamine system. And they were sharing their wisdom on how to manage it. I know that's a stretch, so bear with me for a minute. Dopamine is one of the key brain chemicals for regulating mood.
It is also known as the pleasure chemical. We get a dopamine boost whenever we experience pleasure. And that [00:08:00] also puts us into a good mood. But if dopamine levels drop, our mood drops. And in some forms of depression, there is such a profound loss of pleasure called anhedonia that you can just bet that the dopamine system is involved.
Dopamine and pleasure are also closely tied to motivation because the brain motivates us. It really wants us to find things that gives us pleasure and it creates this drive to get them. So it says, Ooh, that was good. I want more of that. But the trouble is when our ancestors were evolving, when the human brain was evolving, there really wasn't all that much of a problem with excess, with having too much of these good things. Now there is, and that's the flaw in the system, there isn't really a good shut off valve [00:09:00] for pleasure. As far as our bodies are concerned, the more pleasure, the more dopamine, the better. And in this case, our nature can get us into trouble, because in a sense, we are insatiable. There is never quite enough. And we haven't really fixed this flaw because it's just woven into our biology.
Aimee (2): I can't help myself, but I have to reflect on life through show or movie quotes. And I'm thinking of an Office episode where Michael and Dwight are at the dump looking for something, and you can, you know, they're just dwarfed by this massive garbage mountain, and they're taken in by this overwhelming amount.
And Dwight says something like, No other animal on earth could do this. Maybe beavers. But not like this. It's deceptive. You know, we're amidst excess and inequities and then we're out of practice for savoring. I think it sort of helps us lean into this feeling of insufficiency [00:10:00] as if we don't have enough or we aren't enough.
And we get caught on this treadmill of striving, trying to fill ourselves up with material things or food or experiences. And it's so common. Like daily life common. Actually sort of have a daily life example with insufficiency, I think, where I missed out on a lot of savoring. I'll try to tell it quickly and maybe some others can relate.
So my husband and I decided it would be a good idea to rent a very small RV and go on a road trip with our toddler and two dogs. The plan was that my husband and daughter would fly to Phoenix and then I would drive myself and the two dogs in the RV from Minnesota and pick them up. And we would adventure through the southern, US for two weeks without a care in the world.
And so even though I had never driven an RV, I was confident I could handle it. And not only that, [00:11:00] I was sure that seven days I had planned to take to get there with just me and the pups would be some of the most spiritually transformative days of my life, like just coasting on the open road, capturing wisdom and insights as I steered, sort of into enlightenment.
Aimee (2): built it up like crazy.
So the first hour of driving was amazing. And then I hit a snow storm in Iowa and these terrifying winds were hitting me that were blowing me all over the road. And semis would fly by me and with each one, I would grip that wheel as tight as I could and a little tighter each time, my fingers were nearly locked in that gripped position after like only an hour of it.
I proceeded to hydroplane through rainstorms in Kansas. I tried to calm myself down in Oklahoma at a brewery, subsequently drank too much, and woke up with a terrible hangover. I hit straight line [00:12:00] winds in Texas, um, I was caught in another freak snowstorm in New Mexico. It was terrible. Not my finest hours. And I spent most of my driving and non driving time agonizing and grieving over how completely different the vision I had in my head for the trip was from the actual experience. I'm sure you can imagine that like this unsavory trend sort of continued as my husband and toddler were added to the mix.
And our, our two year, she was two and a half at the time, would not sleep in the RV and toddlers who haven't slept are absolutely terrifying. And we were ready to call it quits as a family after five days of this 14 day family adventure. So on a good note, I will say we were able to make some sort of mental shifts, forced ourselves to in the second half of our trip to soak in some goodness. But we did come home a full day early, like, completely exhausted. And so, I actually got a really good lesson [00:13:00] from this trip. I realized that I had built up my own ideas of what could be savored. And because reality didn't match, and because I was grasping onto my expectations, I couldn't savor what was actually right there in front of me. And there were good moments. I can catch like half glimpses of them now, but I couldn't attend as researchers Bryant and Veroff note is key to savoring. So I couldn't really appreciate or enhance what was good. And I think I really, I actually missed a lot of that vacation simply because I was caught up in those perceived insufficiencies that I had created in my head.
Henry: I'm pretty sure, Aimee, that our listeners and me can relate to that. So, we human beings have a complicated relationship with pleasure. You know, we want it so badly and we go to such great [00:14:00] lengths. to get it, but often we miss it anyway. There's another unfortunate issue with this relationship we have with pleasure, and that is that the more intense and short lived the experience of pleasure, the stronger the drive is to get more of it.
As many of us know, this can become overpowering. Most of the addictions are tied to this. One really good example is nicotine, which is one of the most addictive drugs around because it gives such a quick, strong hit to the dopamine receptors. Gambling, sexual addictions, food addictions. All of these affect the dopamine system.
And now, we have this little dopamine dispensary that we carry around in our pockets. So every time that we pull out our phones to compulsively check social [00:15:00] media or news feeds, we get another little hit of dopamine. I don't know about you, but But I don't have enough willpower to deal with all of this.
And I think that is exactly where savoring comes in.
Aimee (2): Yeah, you actually referenced earlier, and then as that New York Times article highlighted, there's a growing amount of research on using the practices of savoring to increase healthy food intake, to decrease overeating, to promote a healthier relationship with food. So I love that, you know, diet less, savor more. Overall though, the research in this area has really exploded in the last five years and it's suggesting a lot of applications for savoring.
So there's solid evidence for it's use to address things like anxiety and depression, but also for reducing opioid misuse risk, promoting positive attitudes toward aging. I say that because I have a big birthday tomorrow that I want to savor. But savoring is also being used to protect soldiers [00:16:00] from things like negative impacts of combat exposure.
It's associated with reduced suicide risk. It's being used for addictions. So, I mean, this simple practice of savoring is really kind of a superpower. There's also some interesting research on the neuropsychology of savoring, suggesting that there's a measurable and lasting impact from the practice that actually increases our neural response to future positive experiences. So let me explain this a little bit more clearly. There's a recent study from researchers Wilson and McNamara where they trained participants in a simple savoring practice, like just how to savor an image, nothing fancy, super simple. A control group in this study was not trained in any savoring practice.
So both groups looked at a group of images, the same images, some were neutral, like a chair, and some were positive, like an adorable puppy and then all participants brain activity was measured. [00:17:00] Specifically, it was something called Late Positive Potential, or LPP. It's essentially a measure for emotional arousal.
And so participants also rated how positive the images were that they were viewing and the emotional arousal that they felt when they saw them. Okay, this is cool. So the participants who were trained to savor, just that simple practice, those who were trained to savor those images rated all the images as more pleasant compared to the control group with the positive images being even more enjoyable. Like that cute puppy.
So probably no surprise there. Now, the savoring group also showed larger LPP, meaning that increased activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional arousal, right? So they were really feeling something different, um, than the control group. A heightened response that was, according to their own reports, positive.
The researchers then had the groups view another set of images 20 minutes later without any instructions to savor for either [00:18:00] group. And a few of the images were repeats from the last round. Now for the savoring group, the images that had been savored earlier and appeared again were actually rated as more pleasant and elicited that larger LPP compared images that had not been savored.
This is subtle, but really important and I love it. it says that in just those few moments, that group of savorers were able to train their brain to attend to something, you know, appreciate it more and enhance its impact for them. And create, at least in the short term, a lasting impact.
And I think it's really easy to imagine how we can do this daily. Just picking one thing to savor that shows up in your daily life. One thing to attend to, to give your attention to, to stay with for a bit, to enjoy it, and to enhance those good feelings.
And when that thing rolls around the next day or later, it can offer just like an [00:19:00] automatic, little positive boost without you doing a thing. Those areas of the brain will be activated again like they were previously, just by seeing that thing again.
Henry: I love that the science points to how simple this is and how accessible, yeah.
You don't need to get anything. To purchase anything more in order to do this. You can start with what you already have. And if you can simply give it your attention and appreciation, you can savor it, and it can make you happier.
Aimee (2): Yeah, I really also love how savoring builds on that sort of mindful attention.
To then brew up more of those positive feelings, you know, there's been this great movement for building mindfulness, that non judgmental present moment awareness, you know, to build up those mindfulness skills to better deal with mental and emotional distress. So with that, the cue is to focus on learning to see thoughts [00:20:00] for just what they are, you know, just thoughts and tolerate those negative or unpleasant emotions without attaching to them so you can let them move through you. But with savoring, we use that attention and then regulate the emotional impact of positive events so that we can really be with them. We can enhance them. It's sort of that other side of emotional regulation, I think, that rarely gets discussed. You know, we don't want to be eaten by the six headed monster, coming back to your Greek mythology, Henry, get consumed in an unhealthy way, but it's essential for our wellbeing, our joy, to soak in the nourishment of the good things that are all around us and participate with them to enhance the benefits that we can receive.
Henry: yeah, I think, uh, as I'm thinking about this, it's, it occurs to me that a lot of my, experiences with savoring are sort of notable because they don't happen all the time.
Whereas it's possible to weave this into our [00:21:00] daily lives as you described earlier. So I do have a little story I'd like to share about kind of a special moment of savoring that just taught me something, and it, it happened just recently. Um, every year at about this time, some friends of mine and I go on a, a weekend. ski trip, hiking trip up in way northern Minnesota. So it's like we just say we are going to go into the heart of winter and we're going to embrace it. So unfortunately it got cancelled this year with the group, but I just decided to go by myself for a little personal retreat.
And sure enough, it was really, really cold. So, I know I'm going to sound like a winter nerd here, but I actually love being outdoors in weather like that. So one day in the middle of the day when the sun was close to its peak, which still isn't very high, I decided to go for a walk in the woods. Now, [00:22:00] since we had this podcast coming up, and I'd been thinking and preparing for this, I had this notion of savoring on my mind, so I thought, Okay, I'm just going to practice this.
And here's what happened. And by the way, I am no expert in savoring. I haven't had any particular training in it. I don't consider myself to be all that good at it, frankly. But here's what happened. So the first thing is, I did not put my earbuds in as I usually do when I go for a walk. I decided I just wanted to listen to the sounds of nature, even though mostly the only thing I could hear was the crunching of my boots on the really, really cold snow.
Then, I decided I was going to let myself actually feel the cold, be aware of it. Now, it wasn't windy that day, so it wasn't painful. And I was just able to notice the feeling of it on my face, my hands, my feet. And then as I kept walking, I just tuned [00:23:00] into the rhythm of my movement, my muscles contracting and relaxing with each step and, and gradually my body warming up gently on its own.
Lovely feeling. Then I decided I really want to see the nature around me, really see it. So I really tried to notice very clearly everything, all the beauty, the trees, the snow, the sun. Now, by this time I was through the woods and on the lake, and so there was this big expanse, vista, and I was walking into the sun.
So the sun was on my face and I decided this, this is so great. I just want to stop for a moment and soak it in. When I did that, the, the crunching sound of my feet stopped and I was able to hear this incredible stillness, the silence that was interrupted by only one woodpecker, a short ways away, tapping on a tree.
It was really cool, so I decided [00:24:00] I'm going to just turn around and see if I can see that woodpecker, which I couldn't, but directly behind me, the full moon was rising. And it was stunning. Sun on one side, moon on the other, about equal distance from the horizon. And then I suddenly realized something.
Something was different. I had stopped thinking for just a little while. I had stopped thinking. And not only that, but I was aware of this feeling of genuine happiness. There was nothing in that moment that I needed or wanted that I didn't already have. It felt simply perfect. Now, I've had moments like that before, and I'm sure I'll have them again.
I only hope that I can notice them, that I can be there for them, that I can savor them.
Aimee (2): You've sort of ignited my imagination. I'm traveling to [00:25:00] that same super quiet winter forest It's just boosts my mood to sort of think about that. Which is actually a savoring practice. That positive sort of mental time travel that we can embark on, you know, we can anticipate an event before it happens, something in the future we can then of course, be there in the moment to savor it, like you were describing in that winter forest, Henry, and we can also reminisce about a once savored experience.
We can even, I love this, we can even look forward to looking back, which is called anticipated recall and look back on having looked forward, which is called recalled anticipation. Right? There are so many ways to savor. Um, we'll dive into more of those in our Joy Lab program, but, I better close our podcast before we sort of travel back to the future and somehow miss this episode.
So thank you so much, everyone, for listening and for exploring with us sort of forgotten key to happiness. This gentle, luxurious [00:26:00] element of savoring, and we hope you'll also join us in the Joy Lab program where we guide you to develop the skills you need to live the elements of joy and to make sure that you are not asleep when the sun or the moon begins to rise.
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