How to Truly Savor the HolidaysDecember 22 , 2011

The holidays are fully here.  Christmas is just a few days away, there are two candles lit on the Hanukkah menorah and the Times Square ball drops in just 9 days.

This time of year has SO much potential for joy and happiness.  But so often we rush through these wonderful events, distracted by our mind chatter about what’s not right or what we’re supposed to do next.

But you can maximize the positive feelings you get from these good events by savoring them.  Savoring can generate more positive emotions and intensify and prolong those that we already feel.   And savoring is really easy to do — here are some key steps:

Slow down and focus on the now.  You’ve been planning, preparing, making and buying for weeks to get ready for the holidays.  Don’t let that do-do-do mentality prevent you from actually enjoying the experiences you’ve created.  During your celebrations, create space to let go of what you should be doing next and open up to what is happening NOW.

Find a way to remind yourself to slow down. Turn your watch or phone to beep every hour.  Tie a string to your wrist or finger.  Wear your watch on your other hand for the week.  Every time you notice the reminder, deliberately slow down, take a couple deep breaths and be with whatever experience is happening to you at that moment.

Open up to your senses.  The holidays are filled with sensual delights and positive feelings.  Let them fill up your awareness:

  • Close your eyes and really smell the cake baking or the food roasting.
  • Watch how the tree lights twinkle off the shiny wrapping paper.
  • Feel the gratitude for that surprise present that was just what you needed
  • See the engagement and excitement as your niece plays with her new toy
  • Melt into the hug with the sister you haven’t seen in months
  • Taste the creamy sweetness of that cup of hot chocolate
  • Luxuriate in loved ones’ enjoyment of the experiences you’ve created for them

Once you notice, try to keep your attention on these experiences for 5, 10 or even 20 seconds.  Breathe into it.  Notice how it changes over time.  Enjoy it fully.

Build it up.  Use your active mind to expand the story and build up those positive emotions.  Some ideas:

  • Remember that this only comes once/year.
  • Celebrate that you worked hard to create this experience, and now is the time to enjoy it.
  • Remind yourself how lucky you are to have this amazing food, these incredible friends, a loving family, a warm home, a safe place to sleep.
  • Increase your appreciation by comparing your situation with others who are going through a harder time or with times in your life when you weren’t so blessed.
  • Recognize how awesome it is that you’ve got time off of work and other duties so you can be here to experience these things.

Share the experience.  When you notice something wonderful, share it with others.  This can multiply the amount of positive emotion you can glean from any experience.  According to the research, sharing is the strongest predictor of the level of enjoyment someone feels.  By talking about the good stuff, you keep your attention there.  Your positive emotions become infectious and you’ll help break others out of their busy minds and into the moment.  As their emotions ramp up, they’ll likely share positive things that they are experiencing further stoking your positivity.  Sharing creates an upward spiral of joy, excitement and appreciation.

So bring your attention to all the wonderful experiences of the holidays and really enjoy them.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the doing and forget to BE.

While I’m going end the main post here, I want to share a recent experience I had with holiday savoring and using it to break out of a funk.  If you are interested read on below.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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The transforming power of savoring

Earlier this week, I took Becca and the kids to a gingerbread house making party with my friend Karin Eastham.  Karin, a former biotech colleague of mine, has been pursuing her passions by publishing a cookbook around team cooking, called Cook the Part.  The book is awesome and her blog shares a ton of great recipes and ideas about how to throw a fun cooking party or team building activity in the kitchen.

As we settled into assembling the houses, I noticed I was feeling off.  I’d had a run-run-run day getting ready for Christmas festivities which had left me feeling a little anxious and cranky.  I brought that energy with me to Karin’s.  Are the kids being polite enough?  Did Becca really want to bring the family all the way up here instead of having a quiet afternoon at home?  What do these biotech colleagues think about my leaving the industry to be a coach?  I could feel the negative energy of these questions — the judging and worrying — start to take hold and make me more anxious.

Then I noticed what I was doing.  That I was taking what could be an amazing experience and tainting it with gratuitous negativity.  Yuck!  So I decided it was a great time to turn on my savoring tools.  I consciously slowed down with a couple deep breaths and became aware of my senses.  This helped me notice all the subtle positive things that were happening.  How my 9 year-old’s tongue stuck out a little when she was concentrating on her masterpiece.  How my 7 year-old was designing his house to maximize how much candy he could fit on it.   How proud I felt as my wife talked about her leadership roles at work.  How yummy the peppermint bark was.  How much fun it was to meet some new and interesting people.  Savoring brought me out of my worrying loops and into the wonderful experience we were having as a family.

Then I focused on building up the experience in my mind and sharing what I was feeling.  I expressed my appreciation of Karin for hosting and doing the baking ahead of time.  I shared my own memories of making gingerbread houses as a kid at my aunt’s house.   How little Piper, the two year old with us, looked just like Cindy Lou Who, with her big blue eyes and brilliant smile.  All of this helped increased the joy I was feeling and encouraged the others to share similar stories.

While I’d arrived grumpy and tired, I left Karin’s house energized and happy.  Savoring had helped me not only salvage a bad day, but imprint some great memories that I will hold onto for a long time.

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