Savoring as a Practice

Elizabeth Spencer

When was the last time that you savored an experience?

At the Anxiety and Depression Association of America Conference this year, Lucas S. LaFreniere, Ph.D., talked about his research and clinical work with Training Savoring Practices.   He explained that savoring is one of the skills in Positive Psychology, along with more familiar skills like awe, compassion, and gratitude.

Savoring involves intentionally attending to and amplifying positive emotions. Savoring is an active, purposeful practice and requires a deliberate, conscious choice to enjoy the moment. It’s important to lean into the experience by identifying why you feel the joy in that moment, where you feel the joy in your body, and to help yourself attend to the details of the experience to make it vivid.

Like so many aspects of Positive Psychology, it is a skill that can be cultivated. The research shows that savoring can increase the intensity and frequency of positive emotions – something we can enjoy and something to share with our clients as they begin to get well from anxiety and OCD.

What Savoring In Therapy Can Do

Practicing savoring skills can increase the intensity and frequency of positive emotions across the board, not just in those moments that are being targeted. Keep in mind that some clients with chronic depression struggle with anhedonia, which is a low level of positive emotion and can make it hard for them to identify activities, people, or thoughts that bring up positive emotions.

Therapists can help these clients begin to pay attention to anything that generates positive emotions without judgment and help clients avoid saying they “should” enjoy one thing or another that they don’t while they are depressed.

Difficulties With Savoring

There can be specific aspects of this practice that may be hard for some people.  For example, clients who chronically worry may find negative emotional shifts aversive and, therefore, use worry as a distress buffer against undesirable changes toward negative emotion.

Focusing on savoring in therapy can help these clients recognize that they are using worry as avoidance and then learn to stop avoiding that negative shift.  Instead, they can begin to look for various shifts in emotion as opportunities for exposure.

The goal is to work on accepting emotional change.  Sometimes we feel happy and sometimes sad.  It is okay for humans to have our emotions change. This can be hard work, but clients can learn that well-being is worth accepting the risk of negative changes in emotion.

Exercises In Savoring

Savoring exercises can take many forms, including tracking any good moment as it occurs, listing things that were enjoyable about an experience, or journaling about a top moment in life.  Savoring exercises can be done in sessions with a client and made easier or more challenging depending on the level of detail in the description and the time that is spent on them.

With more practice, clients can learn to identify what they like about the savoring experience and look for more opportunities to savor in their everyday lives.

Savoring is not a cure-all but rather a practice to complement other skills by getting in touch with our positive emotions.  It is not about suppressing or dismissing pain or problems.

We don’t savor to avoid difficult feelings.  We savor to increase our enjoyment of the good things in life, which is an important goal for clients recovering from anxiety and OCD.

To learn more about savoring:

A Primer for Training Savoring Skills in Psychotherapy (Part 1): Foundational Concepts by Lucas S. LaFreniere, PhD

LaFreniere, L. and Michelle G. Newman. Reducing contrast avoidance in GAD by savoring positive emotions: Outcome and mediation in randomized controlled trial. Journal of Anxiety Disorders.  Volume 93, January 2023

More Insights You Might Be Interested In