When we have our eyes set on the financial prize—that trip abroad, that 300-person wedding, even that robust retirement account—it can be easy to place all of our expectations on that goal.
Once we achieve it, we think we’ll probably be happy.
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But what about being happy today? While your goals shine in the distance, the day-to-day path toward them is often a lot less glamorous. Feeling like you’re on a short spending leash, turning down trips with friends and passing up dinners out can be really, really hard. In fact, feeling too constricted can make us more likely to itch for freedom and veer off course.
The question, of course, is how you can be happy with the journey as well as the destination. The answer? Savoring.
Dr. Fred B. Bryant, co-author of "Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience," and David Blaylock, CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services, explain how you can utilize this key psychological concept to help you achieve your biggest financial goals.
How Does Savoring Work?
According to the dictionary, savoring means to “appreciate fully; enjoy or relish.” It means to stop and smell the roses—and delight in their scent, color and beauty. And positive psychology experts have long theorized that the more you can prolong a positive emotional experience, the happier you’ll be.
“Happiness isn’t in the acquisition of things—no matter what consumer advertising would have us believe,” says Bryant. “If that were the case, the wealthiest people would be the happiest. Happiness is all about how we react to the positive things and events in our lives.”
Sounds easy, right? Well, a few factors complicate the issue. For starters, Americans live life at a relatively breakneck pace. “Most of us are constantly multitasking or thinking about several things at once,” says Bryant, “which means we have trouble slowing down and staying in the moment." Furthermore, we’re spoiled. “We have so much wealth and luxury in this country that we tend to take the little things for granted,” he adds. How are we supposed to savor a cold glass of water when there's an Xbox on the other side of the table?
And that wealth simply doesn't make us happier. Psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that wealthier individuals were less likely to savor the little joys in life (like sunny days, cold beers and pieces of chocolate) compared to people with less money. Even more surprising? Just thinking about money can lessen your ability to savor. Participants in the study who were shown pictures of money before eating a piece of chocolate spent significantly less time eating the chocolate—and reported less enjoyment while eating it.
And in a recent study co-authored by Bryant, it was found that in a 30-day period, people who savored experiences reported more boosts in their daily mood and overall happiness.
That's not to say the rose you smelled last spring will make you happy in the depths of winter—you have to make savoring a habit in order to reap its effects. “It’s counterintuitive, but researchers have found that happiness is more strongly predicted by the frequency of positive events, not by the intensity,” Bryant says. In other words, you’re just as likely—if not more—to find true satisfaction in that weekly $4 mojito with friends than the one $4,000 trip to Mexico.
How to Help Make Savoring Work for You
Of course, appreciating the joys of your daily life is easier said than done. Use these five strategies to help make savoring part of your daily routine:
1. Take Money Off Your Mind
“Most of us spend a great deal of time thinking about money,” says CFP® Blaylock. “And that diminishes our ability to savor.” But when you have big dreams, it can be hard to take your mind off them. How do you do it? “Make a plan and a budget, setting out your priorities and goals,” he says. And then take it off your mind by writing it down. “It’s just like with my to-do list: If I don’t write it down, I’m constantly thinking about it,” he says. “But once you have a formalized plan, you typically won’t worry about it so much.”
You can also put your savings and debt repayments on autopilot so you don't have to think about them, but make sure your bases are covered and you're making progress on your goals.
2. Think Quality Over Quantity
Blaylock encourages us to take a hard look at our spending and to consider which of our purchases bring us joy. “Are you paying $20 a month in subscriptions to magazines that you never get around to reading?" he asks. "Get rid of those, and use that money for a yoga lesson or something else you could enjoy and savor.”
LearnVest C.E.O. and founder Alexa von Tobel has a handy tip to measure her satisfaction: the "cost per happy." It's just the cost of your purchase divided by how many hours of happiness it brought you. There's one caveat, however—if you would rate how happy the purchase made you less than five on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 meaning "It made me the happiest person in the world!"), you should consider eliminating the expense without further ado. It's probably not worth it, whatever you're paying.
3. Focus on What You Already Have
In the United States especially, we’re indoctrinated from a young age to buy, buy, buy. “We believe that if we got the right car, the right clothes, the fancier vacation, we would somehow find happiness,” says Bryant. “Imagine what would happen if everyone spent more time appreciating the things they had, than pursuing the things they wanted,” he says. “If you don’t enjoy what you have, it’s foolhardy to think you’ll enjoy what you want.”
Unsure how to be reflective during the daily grind? Try cultivating the habit of appreciation by using a gratitude journal—a running list of the people, events and things, big and small, that make you feel grateful every day.
“If you don’t enjoy what you have, it’s foolhardy to think you’ll enjoy what you want.”
RELATED: 130 Things That Make Us Happy
4. Dial Down the Multitasking
We’re often on autopilot, checking off our to-do list, moving onto the next thing. “Savoring is about being mindfully aware—which is impossible if you’re thinking about a million other things,” says Bryant. Every once in a while, try putting your brain on pause and really be present in the moment, even if that moment is just a casual dinner. “Next time you eat a piece of pizza, really taste the sauce, experience the crunch of the crust, notice the colors and the smells,” he recommends.
5. Let Yourself Get Lost in the Experience
Have you ever noticed the joy that kids derive out of the simplest things? “Children are savoring experts. They’re so good at turning little things into magical moments,” says Bryant. “Take a small thing like finger painting—they get lost in the moment, smearing the paint all over the paper. Somehow we lose that ability as we get older.”
The adult equivalent of a 5-year-old's immersion in finger painting might very well be what positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls the state of "flow," where you're so intently focused on the task at hand that you lose all sense of time. The next time you find yourself enjoying an activity—whether that's going for a jog, completing a D.I.Y. project, or even cleaning out a cluttered cabinet—try not to get carried away by thoughts of other things. Instead, let yourself savor the moment.
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the people interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.