On first thought, professional food critics don’t necessarily strike us as experts in mental health. While there’s no denying that eating makes us feel good, this wouldn’t lead us to believe food critics know something about mental wellness that the rest of us don’t.
The average food critic probably doesn’t possess any special knowledge about psychology, but they are exceptionally skilled at the art of savoring. Consider everything they pay attention to when tasting a dish, as summarized by one food blog:
- The visual appearance of the dish, such as the colors, shapes, and arrangement of the food
- The smell of the dish, including how many individual aromas can be detected and how enticing they are
- The complexity and balance of all the flavors present in the dish
- The texture and temperature of the food, and how these enhance or detract from the eating experience
As you can see, a food critic approaches the task of eating differently than most people. When they eat, they are living entirely in the moment. They’re focused on appreciating every element of their food and getting as much enjoyment from it as possible. In this way, food critics are masters at savoring—a coping skill you can use to increase your own appreciation of life.
Finding More “Spice” in Everyday Life
We’ve all heard the adage that “variety is the spice of life,” and yes, psychological research has shown that people are happiest when they experience a wide variety of positive situations. But we can also increase our enjoyment of things that we do on a daily basis. Just like food critics, savoring helps us detect the “spices” that are already present in the “food” that is our lives.
Savoring is closely related to mindfulness, but it takes the idea of living in the present an extra step. When we savor an experience, we focus our attention on what makes it pleasurable. We pay attention to everything that’s happening in the moment, and then we take the time to relish all the ways it gives us satisfaction.
In his book Enjoy Life! Healing with Happiness, psychologist Dr. Lynn Johnson refers to a person’s ability to enjoy life as their level of “zestfulness.” Someone who’s high in zestfulness is naturally good at savoring life’s pleasant events. Although people typically operate at their baseline level of zestfulness, Dr. Johnson argues that we can raise our zest for life by practicing the skill of savoring.
So, how can we begin to develop our savoring abilities? It’s not difficult—all you’ll need is a pen and paper.
An Exercise for Increasing Zest
Here’s an exercise that Dr. Johnson recommends to help attune your savoring skills.
First, choose a simple, everyday pleasure that you enjoy. This could be anything you like to do as long as it allows for quiet contemplation. Some examples might be going for a walk, sitting outside on a nice day, reading a book, practicing an art or craft, or eating your favorite meal.
Next, as you are experiencing this pleasant activity or situation, focus your attention on everything that’s happening around you. What sights, sounds, smells and sensations do you notice? Concentrate also on what you’re thinking and feeling. Do you feel content? Relaxed? Amused? Inspired? Grateful? Let your mind linger on the positive sensations and emotions you experience.
After the experience is over, take out a journal or diary and write down what you noticed. Write about your thoughts, feelings and sensations as vividly as possible so that you almost relive them as you write, and notice how you feel while doing so. Does reimagining the experience that you’re savoring make you feel happier?
If we practice savoring and writing about one pleasant experience every day, we’ll find that there are many small things in our lives that we appreciate. Over time, we can increase our zestfulness and enjoyment of life for what it is, not what it could or might be—and we’ll learn a thing or two about how to be a good food critic in the process!
Looking for more information to help you improve your mood and enjoy life? You might find these posts useful!