What Is Savouring And How Is It Used In Coaching?

May 12, 2022

Coaching psychologists have adopted the research findings of positive psychology, specifically those related to the underlying processes that contribute to an individuals flourishing, and incorporate these findings into practical coaching techniques for individual development and wellbeing in the workplace and beyond. This includes research into the constructs of hope, creativity, resilience, love, flow, gratitude, altruism, tolerance and curiosity among others, as well as related exercises and reflective practices that can benefit coachees. One important construct which has risen out of positive psychology to the benefit of coaching practices is that of savouring.

While much attention has been paid by researchers to the ‘downregulation’ of negative emotions (e.g. reducing the experienced intensity of sadness, anger, loss etc.) there is comparatively less research into how individuals ‘upregulate’ or enhance positive emotions such as savouring. This has a significant impact for coaching, where the enhancement of subjective well-being (SWB) is paramount. The colloquial concept of savouring refers to how an individual heightens their appreciation of pleasurable life experiences, effectively putting a ‘spotlight’ on momentary sensory experiences to amplify enjoyment. This concept has been further defined in the academic literature as a form of emotion regulation that involves an individual accentuating the positive affect (PA) they feel by attending to, and purposefully appreciating positive experiences (e.g., Bryant, 1989). Bryant and Veroff (2006) further defined savouring to include: 

(i) the the ability to handle a negative experience (i.e. ‘coping’); 

(ii) the process of enjoying; and 

(iii) the appreciation of enjoyment.

In this definition, savouring is positioned as a response to a negative life event, as well as a resource or preventative act that individuals can undertake in every-day life. 

Savouring has been demonstrated to enhance well-being, self-esteem and perceived happiness, as well as reduce depression and impact physical health outcomes in multiple studies (Gregory et al., 2021; Hou et al., 2018; Irvin et al., 2020; and Lin et al., 2011). Savouring correlates with more pleasure in positive life events, as well as more perceived meaning in life and a greater ability to buffer against both mundane and severe stressors, such as PTSD experienced post-combat (Sytine et al., 2018), stress experienced by Doctoral students during the COVID-19 pandemic (Paucsik et al., 2022), and psychological well-being amongst cancer patients (Hou et al., 2018). These effects are believed to be related to the ‘broaden and build’ framework theory proposed by Fredrickson (2013), which purports that any positive emotional experience influences well-being over time by expanding an individual’s thought-action repertoire, widening their lens for attention, cognition, and action, and enhancing their physical, intellectual, social, environmental and psychological resources as a consequence. This expanded capacity in turn means the individual has more experiences and therefore more opportunities for ‘uplifts’ (or ostensibly enjoyable events (Josea et al., 2020), with more ability to focus attention and cognitively evaluate those events positively, creating an ‘upwards spiral’ of PA (Josea et al., 2020; Sytine et al., 2018). This capacity can also buffer the effects of negative life events as they occur, and increase the likelihood of a recovery to flourishing (Ford et al., 2016; and Josea et al., 2020). With such a strong base of evidence demonstrating the myriad of benefits of savouring practices within this framework in retrospective, present and future tenses, the construct of savouring poses huge opportunities for coaching interventions. Specifically, such coaching interventions can focus on either optimising existing savouring to increase fulfilment and life or work satisfaction in coachees, or build capability to buffer against the effects of stress and depression.  

Savouring strategies that intensify positive emotions enable coachees to achieve a broader range of positive affect and hold huge potential for coachees who are already somewhat fulfilled to further increase their perceived satisfaction in life and work. For example, research conducted into the relationship between savouring art (i.e. an aesthetic experience), psychological well-being (PWB) and SWB demonstrated benefits for the general public. In a study of 144 non-artists, researchers found that savouring art correlated to higher levels of PWB and SWB as well as reduced biomarkers for inflammation and hypertension, indicating an additional benefit of savouring on physical health. Such findings substantiate the basis for a coaching intervention designed around art-savouring, demonstrating just one example of how the savouring research can have practical application for coaching. Borelli et al., (2020) has also explored the sub-construct of relational savouring (RS), which specifically outlines savouring within attachment relationships where the coacheel has felt acceptance, security, protection or adoration. This type of savouring can specifically be built into reflection exercises through the coaching relationship to strengthen present-day interpersonal relationships. Another study conducted by Gregory et al., (2021) focused on the impact of perceptions of uncertainty on savouring and discovered that as coachees increasingly perceive the world as random, savouring is enhanced. This finding can be utilised by coaches through exercises built on acceptance of uncertainty. These types of coaching interventions can benefit an individual in both their work and home lives, however as coaching often focuses on career goals and relationships, we should consider the role of optimising savouring for fulfilment in the workplace specifically. 

Comparatively little research exists regarding savouring in the workplace, and this is an area that deserves further investigation. However, the research that does exist in this area has mostly centered on employee job satisfaction, as opposed to job performance. As organisations will be concerned with both employee satisfaction (as a predictive indicator for engagement and retention) as well as individual performance it is important to have more research evidence into the latter. Lin et al., (2011) conducted a survey with 357 salespeople in the Taiwanese insurance industry and determined that savouring did indeed relate positively to perceived job performance, when high-savouring staff were paired with high-PA colleagues (Lin et al., 2011). Again, this research appears to lend further support to a coaching intervention whereby relational savouring is purposely deployed through dyads in an organisation. Thoughtfully designed exercises such as these can be introduced by coaches in order to maximise both work satisfaction and performance in optimal conditions, however they also have the potential to reinforce the individual in the face of stress.

While the act of savouring can have huge upside potential for coachees who already have a propensity for PA, it may also have a protective benefit in its potential to buffer coachees against the interrelated effects of depression, stress and anxiety, and play a role in building resilience. Research conducted by Ford et al., (2016) looked into the relationship between savouring and self compassion as protective factors for depression amongst young adults (including 133 undergraduate students) and found a clear inverse relationship, with savouring demonstrating a stronger impact on depression scores over time than self-compassion. The authors site the strong ‘undoing effects’ of depression through savouring interventions such as gratitude journaling, and behavioural expression (i.e. purposeful smiling and laughing), even in the face of negative life events (Ford et al., 2016) which provides further evidence for coaches to build practical and personalised coaching exercises upon. The findings of this research did note that individuals who experience depression are challenged in activating savouring, and were consequently delayed in mood recovery following a negative event, which made them more vulnerable to stress and depression (Ford et al., 2016). In stressful situations, such as the experience of being a PhD candidate during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have shown that teaching savouring techniques had a greater impact on reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing program engagement, than self-compassion techniques did (Paucsik et al., 2022). This again demonstrates great potential for coaching interventions, where savouring techniques can be deployed to counteract organisational change, with the goal of impacting well-being and engagement through periods of career stress, however this will be most powerful where coaches can not only proactively deploy these techniques, but also identify savour-dampening in coachees. Coaches should be trained to identify ‘down regulating’ savouring behaviours or dampening PA (Irvin et al., 2020). Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the emotion regulation process will enable coaches to identify dysregulation and therefore more accurately deploy savouring techniques such as reappraisal, emotional expression and savouring journals to overcome dampening habits (Irvin et al., 2020). Researchers note however, that as depression and anxiety have deep neurological roots, a ‘top down’ effect of coaching interventions needs to be met with ‘bottom up’ psychological support to address the state and trait based reward-response system of the individual in order to see real impact on PA (Irvin et al., 2020). Here, it is important for a coach to remember the boundary they walk between professional coaching and mental health, and to ensure that while they build evidence based interventions to proactively address depressive experiences with their coachees, that they do not attempt to address depression when it is present, but instead open a referral conversation with the coachee to seek clinical support.

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