Over the past month, I have been running on extra high energy and enthusiasm, making good progress on some pretty big projects. If you know me, you know that I love working towards goals and positively thrive on getting.stuff.done. I am now starting my eighth month of my Happiness Project and the daily resolutions tracker has gotten long. This weekend as my husband and I sat together for breakfast at home, I was working my way through the list and mapping out my strategy for the day. He is more than well-acquainted with the particulars of this project (and my general achievement orientation) and made some comment to the effect that it seemed more like a productivity project than a happiness one. It caused me to stop briefly to consider (and somewhat smugly quote) something I read recently by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, who said that “there are many faces of happiness aside from the ubiquitous smiley face and the inspirational poster. The face of happiness may be someone who is intensely curious and enthusiastic about learning; it may be someone who is engrossed in plans for his next five years; it may be someone who can distinguish between the things that matter and the things that don’t; it may be someone who looks forward each night to reading to her child. Some happy people may appear outwardly cheerfully or transparently serene, and others are simply busy.” Although I would hope that my experience represents an overlap of a few of those descriptions – I must say I took special comfort in the fact that she acknowledged even the point that for some people – happiness looks very busy. However, I was also happy that my January in particular was centered around learning to savor, which she argues is one of the most important ingredients of happiness.
Savoring is defined by psychologists as “any thoughts or behaviors capable of generating, intensifying, and prolonging enjoyment” and as Lyubomirsky outlines it can be manifested in many different ways with a litany of psychological benefits. When we savor the past, we reminisce about the good old days or replay previous successes, experiences, and events which can lead to better stress management and less depression. If we can savor the now “by [capturing joy, hanging onto good feelings, appreciating good things and] wholly living in, being mindful of, and relishing the present moment, we are likely to also feel more gratified, self-confident, assured, and friendly. And those “prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and experience intense emotions.” Even more encouraging is the fact that research by experts in the subject, Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff, shows that people “can learn to savor proactively – to consciously anticipate positive experiences, to mindfully accentuate and sustain pleasurable moments, and to deliberately remember these experiences in ways that rekindle enjoyment after they end.” So supposedly, with some effort and motivation, even the crazy busy bees like yours truly can make some moves in the right direction.
In The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky outlines several strategies for learning how to savor from practicing appreciating and taking pleasure in the mundane and everyday experiences to replaying happy days on your own or with family and friends. She takes about the value of celebrating good news, being mindful of beauty and excellence, taking pleasure in the senses, and many other potential activities. Since my intentions and resolutions for the month were already set and in full effect prior to reading her suggestions I focused my attention in January on memories: documenting daily one #Happier2018 photo on my iPhone, keeping a marriage journal or logbook to record special interactions or reasons I am thankful for Jon (even when he attempts to poke holes in my Happiness Project 🙂 ) and work on one my biggest resolutions for the year – build a scrapbook chronicling the major events of lives since living abroad – a monstrous task with thousands of photos and memories I desperately want to preserve. As you might imagine, the results of these efforts over the past month on my subjective wellbeing and attempt to master the art of savoring have been deeply rewarding.
Although I often am guilty of rushing around and preoccupied with what I need to do, I know from my own experience that learning to savor the joys of life is well worth slowing down for – whether it’s the past, the present, the future, or dessert. Truthfully, I am not a big sweets person, but in light of Valentine’s Day I am sharing one of my most popular treats, Paleo Brownies with Sweet Potato Chocolate Frosting! They’re easy to make and you can cut into the usual squares or go all out with a heart shaped cookie cutter and some rose petals. These are a delicious indulgence and something everyone will certainly savor.
- Coconut Butter .75 cup (170 g)
- Raw Cacao Powder 1.33 cup (170 g)
- Eggs 2 each
- Sea Salt .75 TSP
- Maple Syrup .25 cup (60 ml)
- Coconut Sugar .75 cup (150 g)
- Tapioca Flour 1.25 cup (150 g)
- Sweet Potato 1 Large or 2 Small
- Dark Chocolate 80% or Higher 3 oz (90 g)
- Bake the sweet potato(es) at 190 C/5-6 gas mark for about 45 minutes or until soft, peel off the skin and allow to cool slightly. Leave the oven on at 190 F/5-6 gas mark and very lightly grease a small 20 cm x 20 cm or 23 cm x 23 cm baking pan with coconut oil.
- Chop the dark chocolate into small pieces to allow for even melting and separate into 30 grams and 60 grams.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk the coconut butter, 30 grams of the dark chocolate and the cacao powder together until melted and smooth.
- Then reduce the heat to medium-low and whisk in the eggs, coconut sugar, tapioca flour, sea salt and maple syrup until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, checking for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center. Mine usually takes about 17 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the sweet potato into a blender and puree until smooth.
- Then add the remaining 60 grams of dark chocolate to a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate using the double boiler method – placing the glass bowl over a small saucepan of water. Bring the water up to heat which will allow for the chocolate to become melted and smooth.
- Once the chocolate is melted, mix it together with the sweet potato puree and allow to cool.
- Remove the brownies from the oven once finished and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. Then frost the brownies with the sweet potato chocolate mix, spreading it evenly. I would allow this to sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the two to stick together better and then enjoy!