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Aging Well: Increase your happiness through savoring

Research shows that practicing savoring positive experiences can improve your life satisfaction, resilience, and overall happiness.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

When you’re having a good day, or even a good moment, do you savor it?

If so, you are actively boosting your overall happiness and even your health. Savoring is defined as the ability to notice positive experiences and engage in thoughts and behaviors that enhance your enjoyment of the experience.

“We don’t always take the time to notice good things that are happening in our lives. Savoring is a way to make the most of positive experiences,” says Jennifer Smith, PhD, director of research at Mather Institute, an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging and trends in senior living. The Institute is the research arm of Mather, the organization that is bringing The Mather, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, to Tysons, Virginia.

Dr. Smith has conducted several studies on savoring, and one involved surveying 267 older adults to measure their savoring, life satisfaction and self-reported health. “We found that the relationship between self-reported health and satisfaction with life was different for people with high and low savoring abilities,” she says.

“When savoring ability was low, people reported lower life satisfaction when their health was poor. However, those with a high ability to savor reported significantly greater satisfaction with life — even when they were in poor health. This suggests that the ability to savor positive experiences can help people respond more resiliently to health challenges.”

The good news is that you can practice savoring and strengthen your ability to pay attention to positive experiences, appreciate enjoyable or meaningful experiences and build positive feelings. Savoring does not necessarily have to occur during an event — it can occur when you anticipate an upcoming positive event or imagine a future happiness. Savoring can also take place when you reminisce about a past positive event, or when you recall how you felt during a happy experience.

Dr. Smith’s research showed that older adults who practiced simple five-minute savoring exercises twice a day for six or seven days reported higher resilience, greater happiness and lower depression compared to those who didn’t fully complete the exercise. There were three steps to the savoring exercise:

1. Think about a positive experience
2. Pay attention to positive feelings that arise
3. Take a moment to appreciate the experience

Find Your Happy Place

Residents of Life Plan Communities may not have to work as hard at savoring exercises: research shows that they have higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction than other people. The findings, based on surveys of 4,100+ residents in 122 Life Plan Communities around the US, are from the Age Well Study conducted by Mather Institute.

Released in 2021, the Age Well Study findings include:

  • Those who are satisfied with their daily life and leisure activities report greater overall happiness.
  • The personality traits of extroversion and agreeableness are both linked to greater happiness and life satisfaction.
  • People are happier and more satisfied when they have a greater sense of community belonging.
  • Approximately 92% of respondents were highly satisfied with the place where they live.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be.