Savoring the Good

Published by Annie Barrett: 
June 2, 2023

Helping people to become more resilient in their minds, bodies and hearts is what I do as a wellness coach, workplace wellness provider, and yoga teacher. One of the ways I do this is by guiding people to notice and appreciate and savor what is already good in themselves, their work, their bodies, their relationships, and in their lives, and to build on this.

Our Built-in Negativity Bias‍

At any given time, there is a lot that is negative. Our bodies may have aches and pains or worse. Something may happen at work that makes us angry. We may have a negative experience with our partner, our kid, or a friend. Bad things are happening in the world everyday like wars, natural disasters, hate crimes, and violence.

Bad stuff sticks to us and it can be hard to see past them to what's good. Psychologists refer to this as "negativity bias." This is our tendency as humans to pay more attention to and to give more weight to negative information and stimuli than to positive information or stimuli.

I first learned about negativity bias from Dr. Rick Hanson. Dr. Rick Hanson is a psychologist who studies and writes about the inner skills of personal wellbeing. Negativity bias is a cognitive bias that's hard-wired in humans causing us to look out for negative experiences and to prevent them if possible. We are wired to scan for what might go wrong, what could go wrong, and what is going wrong, and to cling tightly to this. This is an evolutionary trait that has, in Rick's words, made us more apt to dodge sticks than to chase down carrots. Rick says we are "velcro for negativity" and like "teflon for positivity." By this, he means that we are going to be on the lookout for anything negative and any negative experience will "stick to our ribs"more than a positive experience.

How to Practice

One of the best practices for counteracting negativity bias is to consciously focus on the positive, and a great way to do this is to practice from Rick Hanson calls Taking in the Good. This is a simple practice of taking a good fact and turning it into a good experience. When we do this, we tilt our brain toward positivity. If we always tilt toward the negative, we become more prone to a negative mindset. Each time, we incline our mind-body toward the positive and pause and appreciate the positive, we build neural pathways that incline our minds, bodies and lives toward resilience and positivity.

Noticing the Good Stuff

The first step is to notice what is good around you. This sounds easy, but remember, we are hard-wired to look for the bad. So, you may have to make a conscious effort to notice what is good. Luckily, there is lots of good stuff all around us. We can become aware of the good stuff in our bodies such as our breathing, or the good feeling after a workout. We can become aware of the good stuff in our environment, like blooming flowers or birdsong. We can become aware of the good stuff in the people around us, like a neighbor helping another neighbor. We can become aware of good stuff in the world like uplifting news stories, great novels, and beautiful art.

Savoring the Good

It is one thing to notice the good, and it is another thing to actually experience or savor the good. Savoring the good is to pause and take it in with all of your senses. This is turning a good fact into a good experience.

You may walk by a bed of roses and notice they are lovely, but the goodness of the roses will stick to you much more if you pause and take the time to really experience the roses. Notice the color and hue. Touch the petals and feel the softness. Smell the fragrance. 

If it's early morning and you just poured yourself a cup of hot tea, take a moment and enjoy the warmth of the mug on your skin. Breathe in the aroma of the tea. Pause, soften and breathe. Let your body relax. Exhale again. Even before you take your first sip, anticipate the pleasure of the warmth and taste of the tea in your mouth. Then, when you take your first sip, linger with the flavors and sensation. Don't rush on to the next task of the morning. Soak in the good for just a few more moments. It's that simple. You can fill up your cup with what's good and build on that for the rest of the day.

Positive Neuroplasticity

Each time you notice something good and then pause and truly savor it, you create a rich experience for yourself. Researchers have found that the longer you stay with an experience and the more you involve all of your senses, the more your brain neurons fire and wire together, creating a positive memory.

Building on the Positive

Savoring the good builds positive neuroplasticity, counteracting our brain’s natural negativity bias and makes us happier, more curious, more open, and more skillful. Yes, there will continue to be negative things that we notice and experience and have to deal with, and we don’t need to push these away. Yet the more positive things we can notice and the more positive experiences we create, the more we build positivity into our brains, our bodies, our relationships, and in our world which makes us more resilient, happier, and more fulfilled.