How to live a life less rushed: savouring the good times

Slowing down and paying attention to the good things in life can change our thinking and make us happier, Dr Denise Quinlan from The New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience explains.

By Dr Denise Quinlan
A couple of years ago I realised I regularly arrived into the Christmas period at a full gallop. There was work, end-of-year tasks, plans and budgets for the year ahead, managing a family, organising celebrations and gifts, getting in touch with friends and overseas relatives to acknowledge them/tick them off my list...
I approached the week before Christmas like a racehorse being whipped to a froth down the final strait, resenting everyone. In desperation I put my foot down, declaring that for five days over Christmas I would only travel on foot, and have no more than one appointment per day.

Giving gratitude

The result? The pace of life slowed right down. The days felt long and free, and I was able to enjoy everything in them.
A picnic on the lake front with friends became much more appealing when it was the only deadline in an otherwise clear day. In psychology, we call this savouring – squeezing the tasty juice out of each activity and making the most of it. To savour is to intensify or prolong positive experiences by intentionally paying attention, giving them time, space, or appreciation. It is the opposite to rumination, where we excessively go over and over a problem or dwell on bad things.
The research on savouring and gratitude by Fred Bryant of Lyola University in Chicago and Paul Jose of Victoria University in Wellington is clear – paying attention to and appreciating the good things in our lives supports our wellbeing and resilience.
When we live life at a breakneck speed, it can be hard to appreciate the good things. Savouring requires giving things time and space. Most of us can think of times we were cramming in so many exciting opportunities we ended up hating all of them. Some of your grandmother's advice is now borne out by science – apparently it is good for us to stop and smell the roses. But we each have to work out the speed at which we can savour. Will you give yourself time to find out over the next few weeks?

Rushing by

If you're not convinced, run a little check on past events you didn't enjoy because you were rushing. I once tapped my foot in impatience during a concert by Yehudi Menuhin, because I had an assignment due that night.
I remember thinking, "Quit with the virtuoso twiddling and get on with it, I have an essay to get back to!"
The ultimate waste of an opportunity to savour one of the world's greatest violinists. How many good things have you missed because you rushed by? Think of the hugs declined, sunsets ignored, smiles not received...

Hitting the brakes

Sometimes we have to start with a concerted effort to 'accept the good' to focus on it and give it some space. One strategy I find helps is counterfactual thinking – where I remind myself that the present experience won't always be there. Appreciating the precious temporary nature of this time can heighten a bittersweet savouring and appreciation of the moment. We know the sunset will end, friends move away and children grow up.
The holiday period provides us with the perfect opportunity to press pause: to pull back from the detail of our lives and marvel at the big picture. Take some time this summer to bask in the sheer delight of the good that is in our lives now and try a few of the other strategies suggested by the expert researchers in the field to work out what works for you. As our thoughts turn towards 2020, let's remember there is a speed for savouring. If you have to exceed your own speed limit at times, how can you build in some space (in each day, week, or month) where you can savour and dwell upon the good?

Strategies for savouring time

Sharing with others
Include others in positive experiences or tell others about positive experiences and feelings (this is savouring, not skiting!).
Memory building
Actively create and store memories of positive experiences for later recall and reminiscence (make digital or hard copy photo albums, frame photos of your favourite places).
Take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate personal successes (write a list and look back through your diary).
Sensory-perceptual sharpening
When you're in the moment, focus attention on specific stimuli to appreciate the positive experiences more fully.
Intentionally compare positive experiences to less favourable situations (notice what went well this time).
Immerse yourself fully in positive experiences (put your phone away; relate what's going on to your five senses).
Behavioural expression
Physically display positive feelings – don't hold back with laughing, clapping, hugging and singing.
Avoid kill-joy thinking
Limit thoughts that detract from the positive experience, such as ways the experience could have been better.
Counter-factual thinking
Remind yourself the present experience won't always be there; appreciate the temporary nature of this precious moment.

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