The Costs Of Savoring

Life has many pleasures, like tasty food, soft sheets, the smell of spring, sunlight through leaves, the touch of skin, the sound of a sweet song, etc. And the quality of these experiences vary with the quality of inputs — how much one pays for good food, sheets, etc., and how much one studies which inputs give the best value per price.

But honestly, for me the biggest factor influencing how much pleasure I get from these experiences is how much I pay attention. I can get great pleasure out of most foods if I simply stop for a moment and focus all my attention on that food as I eat it. The pleasure of food in a medium budget meal savored is more than from a top budget meal when distracted thinking or talking, etc. Similarly, a pleasant office window view doesn’t offer nearly as much pleasure when one is focused on a computer screen.

Yet knowing this, I do not actually spend that much time savoring my food, caressing my sheets, or gazing out my office window. I am often happily in my own head thinking, or focused on what other folks are saying. I mostly prefer those mental pleasures to food, etc. While I could learn more about what foods are tastiest, or what window treatments will make my room sparkle, I usually prefer to invest that time learning about what ideas are interesting, important, and neglected.

I also notice an internal reluctance to savor things that others I know consider to be of only moderate quality. By judging those things good enough to open myself to them, to let their feelings rule me for a moment, it feels like I am accepting a lower status position. After all, if I were higher status, I would insist on only being pleased by higher quality inputs. This may be part of why I prefer intellectual pleasures, since I have invested enough there, building on high innate skills, to be able to honestly say that my inputs are of a high quality, relative to inputs available to others.

Time is my key resource. With more time I can better savor my experiences, which usually offers me more pleasure than buying expensive inputs, or researching where to get good inputs cheap. Even if I don’t savor as often as I could, for fear of lowering my status. Money is mainly useful to me as a way to buy more time, and inputs into the intellectual pleasures which are my main focus. I love to savor the sweet taste of an insight acquired, and explained. Like right now – aaah. 🙂

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  • Carl Shulman

    If savoring is costly and can be done without, then it’s future looks poor in a hypercompetitive cognitive soup.

  • Carl Shulman

    “its future” rather.

  • Poelmo

    @Carl Schulman

    Ironic isn’t it: collecting more toys makes us happy according to economists, yet, this system leads to us working harder and harder for diminishing returns, having less time to enjoy our toys, which actually makes us unhappy. Meanwhile a tiny elite is laughing their asses off when they bath 24/7 (they don’t have to work) in the luxuries the rest of us created for them with our blood sweat and tears…

    • e

      @Poelmo:
      I’m not sure economists are telling us that.
      Marketers and manufacturers and the people who profit from that, they are the ones who tell us that “having” makes us happy. (Or, if clever enough, that buying is rebelling.)
      On the other hand, science tells us that “buying” makes us happy, but not so much “having” (the pleasure of buying is not counteracted by later returning the unused items to the store, apparently)
      Economists just tell us that buying makes the economy go, which is good for the ecnomy, and good for the aforementioned groups. Some economists will say that a healthy capitalism is useful and necessary for individuals, but not that it will make them “happy” as such.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      I don’t know what weight you put on self-reported happiness surveys, but Justin Wolfers discusses the issue with Robert Frank here.

  • Mark M

    In other words, you’re kind of a snob. Common pleasures aren’t good enough for you. Let the commoners have them.

    I’m kidding.

    Actually, in other words, people can find pleasure in their environment regardless of socio-economic status, assuming basic needs are met, and the key to finding that pleasure is taking the time to appreciate it, or to savor it, as you put it.

    To put a negative spin on it, those who aspire to higher status but have not achieved it do not allow themselves to enjoy lower status pleasures and lead generally unhappy lives.

    To translate into a time-tested piece of advice, you need to stop and smell the roses once in a while.

  • wumpus

    Savoring and gratitude are the two golden highways to happiness.

  • Orphan

    Status symbols largely seem to me to revolve around demonstrations that the person in question lacks the propensity necessary to achieve that status.

    I assume the guy driving the brand new luxury car is mortgaged to the hilt and barely making ends meet. Such a spendthrift attitude does not suggest the discipline or drive necessary to achieve substantial success in any sense.

  • arch1

    Thanks, this was helpful. I think it will nudge me to more often do focused savoring, and also to try to be more conscious of the status effect (in my case I think there are useful puts and takes that your observations suggest).

    I’d like to add a point about savoring: It has a context. In my case, if I make a conscious effort to remind myself of bigger contexts while savoring, that tends to increase the pleasure, since (among other reasons) this reminds me that most people are not as fortunate as those near me in space and time, most matter is not even alive, etc. (Yet another reason to get interested in cosmology:-)

    (sorry, gotta go else I’d try to make that last paragraph more coherent)

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    I’ve wondered if that’s why people think wine labelled as more expensive tastes better. Believing that the wine is expensive gets them to focus on it.

  • http://grognor.blogspot.com/ Grognor

    This is similar to field independence in personality psychology. I have the same experience, preferring to focus on internal, self-generated stimuli rather than external, field-generated stimuli.

  • Michael Wengler

    The picture one develops reading this website is that most dissatisfaction is bred into us: our ancestors who were more satisfied were less motivated to excel and, on balance, did not contribute as much to our current gene pool.

    Of course as an individual, especially one who has had all the kids he is going to, we have no great reason to be carried on the tide of Darwin. Why not learn how to be “spiritual,” how to take enjoyment in less- or non-status enhancing ways? The skills we have may have gotten there by helping our ancestors compete and survive, but that is no reason we shouldn’t use them just for fun.

    My atheist church (Centers for Spiritual Living, Seaside Church in Encinitas CA in particular) certainly move one towards enjoying every moment, “grokkiing” it I would say (as an aging sci fi child). I think a lot of religion may be devoted to helping people enjoy life as an alternative to seeking status.