“I’ve always believed in savoring the moments. In the end, they are the only things we’ll have.” – Anna Godbersen
New research from the University of Arizona demonstrates how we tend to savor certain specific types of meaningful conversations. Intrigued by the research that builds on evidence from the field of positive psychology that savoring can enhance well-being, relationships and overall quality of life, I spoke with the author, Maggie Pitts, associate professor in the communication department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona. Pitts studies the concept of savoring in human communication. Her paper was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology.
What is savoring communication?
Savoring is prolonging, extending, and lingering in a positive or pleasant feeling. Savoring communication refers to the capacity and desire to be fully present and absorb what is pleasant and meaningful in a social interaction. Communication savoring happens when we realize something joyful, important, or meaningful is happening in a social interaction with another (or others) and we then try to hold on to and elevate that experience.
We might try to soak in as many details as we can to get the “full flavor” out of the experience or connect our current experience with previous joyful experience to extend the pleasure we feel in the moment. We might even tell others that we are savoring and enhance the moment by bringing them into our savoring with us. We can savor the way somebody says something to us, we can savor what somebody says to us, we can savor what we anticipate someone will say to us, we can even savor through reminiscing about a pleasant, meaningful, or poignant communication encounter.
Can you summarize your research into savoring communication?
The field of positive psychology has really good research on savoring. Much of that research points to the benefits of social savoring in particular, but for the most part only generally nods to social savoring writ large. So, at the very broadest level, what I wanted to study from the perspective of communication science was whether people savor communication specifically, and if so, what is that like. My hope was to get a more nuanced perspective on the social side of savoring, and I did. From that perspective, the biggest takeaway is that people can and do savor communication moments quite readily. They derive much pleasure from them and there is quite a bit of variation in the types of communication moments that people savor.
What are the 7 types of savoring communication?
People tend to savor these different types of communication:
- Aesthetic – an inspiring speech, good wordplay, or suspenseful announcement might fall into this category.
- Communication presence – when you’re so deeply engaged and, in the moment, that it feels as if no one else matters.
- Nonverbal communication – exchanges emphasizing nonverbal cues, such as a meaningful hug or smile.
- Recognition and acknowledgement – communication in which someone publicly acknowledged or showed appreciation for participants, as in an awards ceremony.
- Relational communication – establishing, confirming, or giving insight into a relationship.
- Extraordinary communication – centering around special moments, such as a wedding, illness, birth of a child.
- Implicitly shared communication – unspoken communication experiences that may be more difficult to articulate, such as feeling the crowd’s excitement, or looking at someone and instinctively knowing that you are sharing the same feeling.
Which of the 7 is the most common?
My more recent line of research suggests that both emerging adults (college aged) and adults 35 years old and older savor extraordinary communication events most frequently followed by moments of communication presence. This pattern is consistent with my initial study.
Which savoring communication type might be the most difficult to master or gain experience in?
I don’t know that any of these types of communication events are more difficult to savor than others. It probably has more to do with the opportunities one has in their life and whether or not you are someone inclined to savor. People who have opportunities to participate in extraordinary events will have more opportunities to savor those. That said, some individuals are more sensitive to aesthetic cues than others – seeing the beauty in the sounds and shapes of language or appreciating a well-timed joke or well-told story. Others might not be as attuned to nonverbal cues surrounding an encounter and have a harder time savoring those – the touch of a hand, tone of voice or volume, subtle shifts in facial features that show pleasure or eye gaze.
How can someone train themselves to engage in savoring communication?
The good thing is many people already do this. When we play a conversation over and over in our mind to generate positive affect, we’re savoring communication. When we derive pleasure from imagining a future conversation with a dear one, we’re savoring communication.
- The first step is to be mindful and attentive to communication encounters you’re having.
- Be present in the moment.
- Reduce distractions.
- Put mobile devices away and attend to the other.
This works for strangers, acquaintances, close friends, and loved ones. Once you heighten your own awareness of your communication encounter, you can start to identify what is pleasurable or meaningful in a given encounter. Is it the way someone speaks, an accent or a turn of phrase particular to an individual? Is it what they are saying, celebrating you in your achievements or seeing you for who you are? Is it an unspoken recognition that you’re experiencing the same positive feelings as another?
Once you recognize something delightful in the moment, you can try to capture it by slowing down the moment, training your focus on what is going on around you and bringing in additional good things, and even by saying something out loud –“I am savoring this moment” or “I am really enjoying what we are sharing right now.” This not only allows you to enhance your own moment, but also to bring someone else into the moment with you.
Do women appear to have an easier facility for savoring communication, or are there male/female differences?
I haven’t looked at sex differences in my own research. In general, there are many more similarities than differences between men and women when it comes to communicating than differences, but the psych literature suggests that women are more likely to savor (in general) than men.
Any other points about savoring communication you feel strongly about?
I think the really interesting savoring studies are pointing toward greater balance and harmony in what we can savor. In North America, we’re preoccupied with the idea that we should experience an abundance of positive emotions and we should capitalize on those. While I agree that capitalizing on the positive experiences in our lives is very important, it is also important to realize that we can savor communication experiences that aren’t necessarily considered “positive” events, but rather are meaningful events.
Several participants have shared stories with me about savoring difficult conversations and difficult encounters because of the way in which a message was shared or because of the impact of the message. For example, people savor final conversations with loved ones, giving a eulogy, receiving a poor health diagnosis in a compassionate way, and even receiving “a sign” from someone who was deceased. My research team’s work with international participants especially points to the possibility of savoring the “negative.” To be clear, this is not the same as ruminating. Instead, it is finding pleasure or meaning in appreciating even difficult moments to their fullest.