“Savoring can help us counteract the natural human tendency to focus more of our attention on negative things in our lives than on positive things,” says Fred Bryant, Ph.D., of Loyola University, who co-authored Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience with Joseph Veroff, Ph.D.
Our challenge is to prioritize savoring, even in the face of adversity—indeed especially in the face of adversity—for that is when we need it most, to help counterbalance the negative effects of stress and suffering.”
Positive affect is associated with flourishing and success across life domains including social, work, physical, and psychological health (Pressman et al., 2019
From an evolutionary perspective, the functional role of positive emotions has been theorized to build physical, intellectual, and social capacities that promote adaptation and long-term survival (Fredrickson, 1998).
With regard to short-term functions, specific positive emotions, such as pleasure, have been theorized to reinforce activities that lead to survival including food, procreation, and social ties (Berridge and Kringelbach, 2015).
Hedonic wellbeing (see section 2.1) may be associated with increased flexibility and neuroplasticity across various brain networks implicated in both cognitive control and affective processing (Shi et al., 2018).
With regard to hedonia, based on a 30-year review of the hedonic literature, Diener et al., 1999 defined subjective wellbeing as consisting of three primary components: pleasant affect such as joy, contentment, pride, affection, happiness, and elation, unpleasant affect including sadness, anxiety, stress, depression, guilt, and envy, and life satisfaction such as satisfaction with current, past and future life, and a desire to change.
Inhibitory control function is implemented by a network of cortical brain regions including dorsomedial and lateral prefrontal cortex, right inferior frontal cortex, and dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC; Aron et al., 2014; Banich et al., 2009; Miller and Cohen, 2001).
Critical to experiencing positive affectivity and wellbeing, intact inhibitory control abilities contribute to navigating healthy social relationships and activities (see section 6.1), particularly in the context of navigating affective stimuli that are interwoven into the fabric of daily social interactions.
Inhibitory control functions are also critical to promoting behaviors that facilitate a healthy lifestyle since implementing inhibitory control is important for achieving long-term goals (Katzir et al., 2010).
Flexible patterns of thought and behavior engendered by positive emotions increase enjoyment of positive health behaviors (Van Cappellen et al., 2018).
For example, the presence of positive emotions predicts meditation habits (Cohn and Fredrickson, 2010) and physical activity adherence (Rhodes and Kates, 2015)
Working memory refers to the ability to retain information for immediate processing in order to accomplish complex tasks such as learning, reasoning, decision-making, and implementing goal-directed behavior (Baddeley, 2010).
increased capacity for working memory is associated with improved emotion regulation (Hendricks and Buchanan, 2016; Messina et al., 2016; Schweizer et al., 2017; Scult et al., 2017).
Pe et al. (2013) reported that the ability to effectively update positive stimuli in working memory is related to increased life satisfaction and wellbeing. Higher levels of life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing have also been associated with attentional biases toward positive stimuli (Blanco and Vazquez, 2020; Sanchez and Vazquez, 2014), and these positive biases may influence working memory
Shifting broadly refers to the capability to move between cognitive mental sets in a flexible manner.
positive emotions and moods increase shifting and cognitive flexibility relative to other mood states (Putkinen et al., 2017; Storbeck et al., 2019), (Dreisbach and Goschke, 2004), (Wang et al., 2017)
Subramaniam et al. (2009) relatedly reported that individuals in a positive mood were able to solve insight problems more readily
“Positive emotions contribute to wellbeing. They make our brain networks flexible and modifiable.”
Research article Feb ‘21
“The experience of positive emotions, feelings, and affect are fundamental building blocks for cultivating resilience, flourishing, vitality, happiness, and life satisfaction (Bryant, 2003; Cohn et al., 2009; Diener et al., 2009; Silton et al., 2020), which ultimately contribute to physical and emotional wellbeing
Researcher Jordi Quoidbach, Ph.D., of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics describes experiential savoring as “a mindful approach in which one focuses attention on the present moment and systematically suppresses thoughts unrelated to the current experience.”
Rick Hanson, PhD
Trigger patterns of neural pulsing that produce relaxed alertness
Activate positive emotion circuits, building resilience and resistance to depression
Increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that supports mood, sleep, and digestion
Thicken the anterior cingulate, strengthening attention and self-observation
Thicken the insula, strengthening internal sensing and empathy for others
Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) for relaxed well-being
Strengthen the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, dampen chronic pain
You can rewire your brain even grow new neurons
“Whatever we repeatedly sense and feel and want and think is slowly but surely sculpting neural structure”
“intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity—especially if it is conscious—will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure”
“Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.”
“Your experiences don’t just grow new synapses, remarkable as that is by itself, but also somehow reach down into your genes—into little strips of atoms in the twisted molecules of DNA inside the nuclei of neurons – and change how they operate. For instance, if you routinely practice relaxation, it will increase the activity of genes that calm down stress reactions, making you more resilient.”
“Your experiences matter. Not just for how they feel in the moment but for the lasting traces they leave in your brain. Your experiences of happiness, worry, love, and anxiety can make real changes in your neural networks.”
“Your attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: It highlights what it lands on and then sucks it into your brain—for better or worse.”
“the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. If you keep resting your mind upon self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt.
On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hard-wired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, positive mood, and a sense of worth. Looking back over the past week or so, where has your mind been mainly resting?
In effect, what you pay attention to—what you rest your mind upon—is the primary shaper of your brain.”
“you have a lot of influence over where your mind rests. This means that you can deliberately prolong and even create the experiences that will shape your brain for the better”
“have it, enjoy it”
“positive experiences always have gain and rarely have pain. The most direct way to grow inner strengths such as positive emotions, determination, and compassion is to have experiences of them in the first place. If you want to develop more gratitude, keep resting your mind on feeling thankful. If you want to feel more loved, look for and stay with experiences in which you feel included, seen, appreciated, liked, or cherished. The answer to the question of how to grow good things inside your mind is this: take in experiences of them. This will weave them into your brain, building up their neural circuits, so you can take them with you wherever you go.”
Just as “stress is natural and at times very helpful”, and if our body functions properly, it also has a follow up or termination response to the stress. We have an “innate autoregulatory healing potential, or physiological self care and stress-management”
A certain amount of stress, and well handled, can be beneficial to us. Yet, our bodies often experience more stress that our “innate self care” is able to handle and we need to supplement with more conscious self care.