Recently I accompanied my family on a trip I had no interest in joining. A friend had planned a trek up a steep mountain, Pacific Crest Trail in Tahoe National Forest. I’ve been enjoying Lake Tahoe for many years, but never for a mountain climb, unless it was up a ski lift.

After realizing I would miss valuable family time, I agreed to go, with trepidation about climbing at 8,000 feet. You probably know that altitude breathing is strained due to oxygen-deprivation. Being a physical person, I thought, why not try?

To my surprise I was able to climb for almost two hours up an incline of 1800 feet, riddled with wind and intermittent rain. What I found at the higher elevation was the awe from vast beauty.

On our way home we happened to discover a podcast, Hidden Brain, hosted by Shankar Vedantam. His guest, psychologist Dr. Fred Bryant (Loyola University, Chicago) spoke about the concept of savoring joy.

My antennae perked up, as a person who focuses on joy as an antidote to burnout. 

According to Dr. Bryant, while many of us crave happiness, joy is often harder to notice and appreciate. We often dwell on things that upset us. Our negative emotions have a way of keeping us from savoring the good in life.

Having just completed an exhilarating mountain climb, my interest piqued. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful to expand my joy from the weekend? 

How?

I could reminisce with my family over the photos. I could share the joyful experience with others. I could simply relish  the pride of overcoming my fear of the hike.

Vendantam shared, “Our life is filled with many joys and sorrow, but many of us preferentially focus on what is wrong. We complain about unpleasant co-workers, but don’t mention the kind souls. We need to find joy, and when we do, we need to notice and savor it.”

What exactly is savoring?

According to Bryant, “savoring is a process that can begin long before a joyful experience. You can anticipate prospectively. And afterwards you can remember pleasures retrospectively.”

From the photo below, I can remember the vision of the lakes. I can recall that memory any time I wish to feel joy. And remembering that vision also triggers the pride of pushing past my insecurity about the climb.

How to practice savoring

Bryant refers to active memory building the wonderful moments of life. What do you want to remember?

What is the essence of a beautiful moment?

He describes heightened temporal awareness, as reminding yourself that what you’re experiencing is transient and fleeting and that fact can give us the energy and motivation to seize the moment or savor it as long as possible.

This strategy heightens the appreciation, and the fleetingness makes the moment even more special.

Can you think of any joyful, fleeting moments that you would like to savor?

There are other interesting resources at Hidden Brain Podcast, including Dr. Bryant’s book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience.