Many times I hear people say that they enjoyed the practice of mindfulness because they loved the prolonged and concentrated feeling of calmness they felt as they turned their attention to their breathing. However, I must explain to them that this is not an example of mindfulness, but instead the practice of savoring. The distinction here is that savoring occurs when we deliberately try to enhance the positive – to prolong a good experience. It does take mindfulness to get us to our senses of taste or sight or smell – to even notice the good – in the first place. But that’s it. Mindfulness is about noticing whatever is occurring in our attention – good, bad, or neutral. Mindfulness is not about trying to keep the good there or trying to create the positive. Keeping the positive is where savoring takes over.
Because of the popularity of mindfulness, there are more misconceptions and confusions about what mindfulness is than there are accuracies. This distinction with savoring is one of those distinctions.
In their book on savoring, Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff add this clarification:
“When people savor, they too are mindful of their experience, but their attention does not remain totally open to incoming or internal stimuli. Instead, the savoring process involves a more restrictive focus on internal and external stimuli associated with positive affect. In that sense, savoring is a narrower concept than mindfulness.” (p. 15).
With mindfulness we notice the positive and good but we maintain an open, curious, and receptive awareness that is ready to notice other elements of our present moment – perhaps more good things, perhaps some unpleasant sensations, or perhaps some surprises.
There is plenty of research on the science and practice of savoring and I’ll be reviewing this in future posts. For now, let’s use practical strategies to highlight the distinction between mindfulness and savoring.
For each, let’s start with the same scenario: You are sitting outside gazing at nature.
1.) Mindfulness strategy: Notice the nature scene. Be attentive to your senses, your feelings, and your thoughts as you sit there. Be also attentive to the myriad of details of what surrounds you. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling from moment to moment. You might feel peace. Maybe agitation? Lingering stress or emerging calm? Be open to all feelings and allow them to be there. Continue to watch them. Be open to new feelings or thoughts that arise. Do the best you can to not get “caught up” in any detail or any feeling. Instead, take an approach of exploring and noticing, more and more. You might even say to yourself over and over “what else can I notice?” Take in further details as you look around your environment and as you observe your inner experience.
2.) Savoring strategy: Notice the nature scene. Allow yourself to be immersed in its beauty – the sounds, visual details, and pleasant smells. Take notice of something particularly positive – something that makes you feel good. It might be the sound of babbling water, the majesty of a giant tree, or the chirping of birds as they fly around. Absorb yourself in the details. Notice any positive feelings present within you – such as peacefulness, energy, love, awe, gratitude, hope, interest, or other feelings. Tune in closely to one of these feelings. Feel it fully as you enjoy the nature scene. Stick with that positive emotion. Appreciate how good it feels. Extend it by breathing with it. It might feel as if your breath is enhancing your feeling, deepening it. If the feeling fades, turn to another positive feeling or to another pleasurable part of the nature scene.
Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience (link is external). Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing (link is external). Boston, MA: Hogrefe.