Psychology Savoring
Jaime Kurtz, Kristin Layous
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0188


Savoring is defined as a process through which people up-regulate their positive feelings by directing attention to emotionally relevant events in their past, present, and future. It is conceptually distinct from pleasure because it is often more intentional and active, requiring attention and positive attributions. It is also distinct from mindfulness, which is a more nonevaluative awareness rather than a purely positive one. Finally, it is distinct from gratitude, because savoring does not require a source (i.e., being grateful to someone or something). Synonyms for savoring, while perhaps more narrow, are relishing, delighting, basking, appreciating, cherishing, enjoying, and positive emotion up-regulation.

General Overviews

The works cited here provide a general introduction and orientation to the concept of savoring from distinctly different viewpoints. Bryant and Veroff 2007 offers a book-length review of savoring, defining it and distinguishing it from related constructs, in addition to offering several measurement tools. The authors also include anecdotes, quotations, and suggestions for future research. Quoidbach, et al. 2010 offers empirical support for the effectiveness of eight specific savoring strategies, while Quoidbach, et al. 2015 discusses savoring as a deliberate emotion-regulation technique underlying the efficacy of positive emotion interventions. Miyamoto and Ma 2011 notes important cultural differences in the tendency to savor or to dampen positive emotions. Mak, et al. 2009 and Speer, et al. 2014 examine the neurological underpinnings of positive emotion regulation.

  • Bryant, Fred B., and Joseph Veroff. 2007. Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    A comprehensive review of the psychology of savoring. Discusses different types of savoring (e.g., sharing with others; memory building, self-congratulation), how savoring relates to broader concerns of health, creativity, spirituality, and interpersonal relationships, and specifically how one might savoring the past, present, and future. Several assessment techniques are provided, including the Ways of Savoring Checklist, the Savoring Beliefs Inventory, and the Children’s Savoring Beliefs Inventory. A theoretical model of the savoring process is also proposed.

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    • Mak, Amanda K. Y., Zhi-Guo Hu, John X. Zhang, Zhuang-Wei Xiao, and Tatia M. C. Lee. 2009. Neural correlates of regulation of positive and negative emotions: An fMRI study. Neuroscience Letters 457:101–106.

      DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.094Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Using fMRI scanning, participants were examined while looking at a series of emotional pictures. Some were instructed to try and regulate their emotions, others were not. Different brain regions were active when up-regulating positive emotions (prefrontal cortex, left insula) than when dampening negative emotions (anterior cingulate, left superior frontal gyrus). Participants also self-reported greater efficacy in regulating positive emotions, compared to negative.

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      • Miyamoto, Yuri, and Xiaoming Ma. 2011. Dampening or savoring positive emotions: A dialectical cultural script guides emotion regulation. Emotion 11:1346–1357.

        DOI: 10.1037/a0025135Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        In a series of four studies, which used both retrospective assessments and online reports, cultural scripts were shown to relate to different emotion regulation strategies in samples of American and East Asian college students. With regard to savoring, East Asian students engaged in less up-regulation of emotion following a positive event. This difference was mediated by adherence to cultural scripts regarding hedonic balance.

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        • Quoidbach, Jordi, Elizabeth V. Berry, Michel Hansenne, and Moira Mikolajczak. 2010. Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences 49:368–373.

          DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          The dispositional savoring strategies of displaying positive facial expressions, being present, and engaging in positive mental time travel were related to positive affect, whereas capitalizing was related to life satisfaction. Having a diversity of savoring strategies predicted overall happiness independently from amount of savoring.

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          • Quoidbach, Jordi, Moira Mikolajczak, and James Gross. 2015. Positive interventions: An emotion regulation perspective. Psychological Bulletin 141:655–693.

            DOI: 10.1037/a0038648Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Reviews and classifies evidence for various positive emotion upregulation strategies (including savoring) within the process model of emotion regulation that includes situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change/appraisal, and response modulation before, during, and after a positive event.

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            • Speer, Megan E., Jamil P. Bhanji, and Mauricio R. Delgado. 2014. Savoring the past: Positive memories evoke value representations in the striatum. Neuron 84:847–856.

              DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.09.028Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              Using fMRI, participants recalling a past positive experience exhibited heightened neural activity in key brain regions (i.e., the striatum, medial prefrontal cortex) that are known to be related to reward. Findings suggest that reflecting on past, positive memories elicits rewarding emotional experiences that are evident on a neurological level.

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              Correlates and Outcomes of Savoring

              This section presents some of the primary outcomes and correlates of savoring, as well as discussing related psychological constructs, such as mindfulness, self-esteem, and affect. Beaumont 2011; Bryant 2003; and Wood, et al. 2003 correlate indicators of savoring with important markers of physical and psychological well-being. Smith and Hollinger-Smith 2015 specifically investigates older adults who are at risk for anxiety and depression. Savoring is also examined as a consequence of both immediate context and of past experiences. In experimental studies, Quoidbach, et al. 2015 and Quoidbach, et al. 2015 examine surprising impediments to savoring, such as money and a wealth of extraordinary life experiences. On the other hand, Croft, et al. 2014 finds that recalling life’s past hardships can enhance savoring in the present. Finally, a daily diary study Jose, et al. 2012 examines how everyday savoring activities relate to happiness over time.

              • Beaumont, Sherry L. 2011. Identity styles and wisdom during emerging adulthood: Relationships with mindfulness and savoring. Identity 11:155–180.

                DOI: 10.1080/15283488.2011.557298Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Finds that higher levels of mindfulness are relate to a greater ability to savor the moment.

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                • Bryant, Fred B. 2003. Savoring beliefs inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savouring. Journal of Mental Health 12:175–196.

                  DOI: 10.1080/0963823031000103489Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  Finds that those who possess the capacity to savor, as measured by the Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI) tend to be more extraverted and optimistic, and less neurotic, guilty, and hopeless.

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                  • Croft, Alyssa, Elizabeth W. Dunn, and Jordi Quoidbach. 2014. From tribulations to appreciation: Experiencing adversity in the past predicts greater savoring in the present. Social Psychological and Personality Science 5:511–516.

                    DOI: 10.1177/1948550613512510Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Participants reported adversity in their lives (e.g., losing a job, divorce), as well as their capacity to savor, current mood, and Big Five personality traits. Past experiences of adversity predicted current ability to savor, and current adversity predicted lower levels of savoring.

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                    • Jose, Paul E., Bee T. Lim, and Fred B. Bryant. 2012. Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. Journal of Positive Psychology 7:176–187.

                      DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.671345Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Using longitudinal experience-sampling techniques, this paper finds that daily positive events predict greater momentary savoring, which predicts greater happiness.

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                      • Quoidbach, Jordi, Elizabeth W. Dunn, K. V. Petrides, and Moira Mikolajczak. 2010. Money giveth, money taketh away: The dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychological Science 21:759–763.

                        DOI: 10.1177/0956797610371963Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Participant income and a money prime (versus blurred picture) both independently and negatively predicted savoring; accounting for savoring attenuated the positive correlation between income and happiness (Study 1). In addition, a money prime (versus neutral photo) predicted less savoring of a piece of chocolate (Study 2).

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                        • Quoidbach, Jordi, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Michel Hansenne, and G. Bustin. 2015. The price of abundance: How a wealth of experiences impoverishes savoring. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41:393–404.

                          DOI: 10.1177/0146167214566189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Participants who had visited more countries reported less savoring of a future trip to an ordinary destination (study 1). In addition, across two studies, participants who were primed to feel well-traveled (versus poorly traveled) spent less time in a Boston tourist attraction (the Old North Church; studies 2 and 3).

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                          • Smith, Jennifer L., and Linda Hollinger-Smith. 2015. Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging and Mental Health 19:192–200.

                            DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2014.986647Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            A sample of older adults completed a test of measures of resilience, savoring, and other indicators of well-being. Positive correlations were found between ability to savor and a variety of positive outcomes, including greater happiness and life satisfaction and lower rates of depression. The ability to savor was especially beneficial for those lower in resilience.

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                            • Wood, J. V., S. A. Heimpel, and J. L. Michela. 2003. Savoring and dampening: Self-esteem differences in regulating positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85:566–580.

                              DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.3.566Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Suggests that when they experience positive affect, people high in self-esteem engage in behaviors that prolong their ability to savor, while those low in self-esteem tend to dampen it.

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                              Measuring Savoring

                              An overview of the most common and well-validated ways to operationalize and measure savoring. Bryant 2003 offers a brief self-report scale on perceptions of savoring ability, while Nelis, et al. 2011 develops a vignette-based assessment.

                              • Bryant, Fred B. 2003. Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savouring. Journal of Mental Health 12:175–196.

                                DOI: 10.1080/0963823031000103489Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Describes a twenty-four-item self-report measure of one’s abilities to savor. Confirmatory factor analysis revealed three distinct subscales (savoring through anticipation, savoring the moment, and savoring through reminiscence).

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                                • Nelis, Delphine, Jordi Quoidbach, Michel Hansenne, and Moira Mikolajczak. 2011. Measuring individual differences in emotion regulation: The Emotion Regulation Profile-Revised (ERP-R). Psychologica Belgica 51:49–91.

                                  DOI: 10.5334/pb-51-1-49Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Provides validity evidence for the Emotion Regulation Profile-Revised (ERP-R), a vignette-based measure that asks participants to select the emotion regulation strategy(ies) that describes their most likely reaction to the hypothetical situation (in French). Exploratory factor analyses yielded two factors: up-regulation of positive emotions and down-regulation of negative emotions.

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                                  Interventions to Increase Savoring

                                  As Bryant and Veroff 2007 (cited under General Overviews) argues, people can savor their past (e.g., reminiscence), their present (e.g., mindfulness or appreciation), and their future (e.g., anticipation) by strategically directing their attention toward select positive events. The following studies examined savoring-related activities that have clear positive outcomes.

                                  Past-Oriented Interventions

                                  These experimental studies examine how people might savor their past as a way of deriving more enjoyment from the present. Bryant, et al. 2005 finds a happiness-boosting effect of reminiscing on a past experience, which Lyubomirsky, et al. 2006 finds that the largest benefits came from mentally replaying a happy past event (in contrast to writing or talking about it). Counterintuitively, Koo, et al. 2008 finds that mentally subtracting a loved one from one’s life promoted increased happiness and satisfaction.

                                  • Bryant, Fred B., Colette M. Smart, and Scott P. King. 2005. Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies 6:227–260.

                                    DOI: 10.1007/s10902-005-3889-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    In a week-long study, participants were taught one of three strategies that promote reminiscence. Some were asked to think back to a positive experience, some were asked to look at a physical memento of the event, and some were in a control condition. Participants in the first two conditions reported significantly greater feelings of happiness relative to controls, with those in the mental imagery condition showing the biggest gains.

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                                    • Koo, Minkyung, Sara B. Algoe, Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert. 2008. It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95:1217–1224.

                                      DOI: 10.1037/a0013316Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Married adult participants were asked to think about their spouse and to imagine how they might not have met and what their lives might be like without the person. Compared to a control group, these participants were happier and more satisfied with their marriages following this reflection. This was contrary to people’s intuitions; they expected to feel sad as a result of this exercise.

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                                      • Lyubomirsky, Sonja, Lorie Sousa, and Rene Dickerhoof. 2006. The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about triumphs and defeats. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90:692–708.

                                        DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.90.4.692Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Participants were asked to reflect on an experience that they considered joyful or happy and then spent fifteen minutes per day for three days either writing, talking, or thinking about the experience. Of these three, thinking about the experience was most effective in promoting happiness and well-being four weeks after the study began, suggesting that playing through a past positive event facilitates savoring.

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                                        • Otake, Keiko, Satoshi Shimai, Junko Tanaka-Matsumi, Kanako Otsui, and Barbara L. Frederickson. 2006. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindness intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies 7:361–375.

                                          DOI: 10.1007/s10902-005-3650-zSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Participants kept track of acts of kindness (e.g., comforting a friend) for one week. Compared to a control group, individuals who recorded the positive things they had done for others exhibited greater increases in happiness over the course of the week. These findings suggest that savoring the positive effects of our own actions on others may improve happiness.

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                                          Present-Oriented Interventions

                                          These studies examined techniques for enhancing present-experience. The researchers in O’Brien and Ellsworth 2012 experimentally induced a feeling of scarcity, telling students they were about to sample the last in a series, which made the ordinary experience of eating chocolates more enjoyable. Quoidbach and Dunn 2013 extends this idea over a one-week period, finding that participants who were denied chocolate for a week rated it as more enjoyable than those who had free rein. Wilson, et al. 2005 finds that, counter to people’s intuitions, an element of positive uncertainty can enhance enjoyment of a positive experience. Kurtz 2015 finds that mindful photography also encourages savoring and appreciation of one’s natural environment. Hurley and Kwon 2012 finds that allowing participants to choose present-focused savoring strategies from a range of options was related to a reduction in negative affect over two weeks. In the interpersonal realm, Gable, et al. 2004 finds that interpersonal savoring (“capitalization”) promotes relationship satisfaction. Finally, Emmons and McCullough 2003 and Seligman, et al. 2005 provide evidence for expressing gratitude as a happiness booster. Although it is not necessarily the same as savoring, expressing gratitude encourages positive emotion regulation that is similar to the process of savoring.

                                          • Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough. 2003. Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84:377–389.

                                            DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            In one of the first experimental studies on gratitude, both undergraduate participants (studies 1 and 2) and those with a neuromuscular disease (study 3) were asked to list three positive things that had happened each day (compared to listing hassles and neutral events). Across three studies, “counting blessings” was linked to enhanced happiness.

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                                            • Gable, Shelly L., Harry T. Reis, Emily A. Impett, and E. R. Asher. 2004. What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87:228–245.

                                              DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.87.2.228Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Examined what may be considered interpersonal savoring, which occurs when people share news of a positive event with a significant other. Referred to here as capitalization or active-constructive communication, it predicts relationship satisfaction and felt understanding.

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                                              • Hurley, Daniel, and Paul Kwon. 2012. Results of a study to increase savoring the moment: Differential impact on positive and negative outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies 13:579–588.

                                                DOI: 10.1007/s10902-011-9280-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                In a two-week study, participants were taught to use several different savoring strategies (sharing positive experiences with others, taking mental snapshots, and counting their blessings). To better savor their daily lives, they were instructed to use the strategies that most appealed to them. After controlling for baseline levels of positive affect, those taught these strategies (compared to a control group) displayed a drop in negative affect over two weeks (but no gains in positive affect).

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                                                • Kurtz, Jaime L. 2015. Seeing through new eyes: An experimental investigation of the benefits of photography. Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 11:354–358.

                                                  DOI: 10.6000/1927-5129.2015.11.51Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  This study examined the affective and cognitive benefits of taking photographs of one’s everyday surroundings. Participants were instructed to (1) take photographs in a mindful, creative way, (2) take photographs in a neutral, factual way; or (3) do a count-your-blessings writing exercise. Those taking mindful, creative photographs were in a significantly better mood and were significantly more appreciative and motivated than those taking neutral photographs. There were no significant differences between the photography condition and the writing activity.

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                                                  • O’Brien, Ed, and Phoebe C. Ellsworth. 2012. Saving the last for best: A positivity bias for end experiences. Psychological Science 23:163–165.

                                                    DOI: 10.1177/0956797611427408Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    This study manipulated the scarcity of a common, positive experience. While taste testing a series of chocolates, some were presented with the fifth chocolate in the series, framed as “the last chocolate” while others were told it was “the next chocolate.” Those presented with the “last chocolate” rated it as more enjoyable than those told it was the “next chocolate.” They were more likely to say it was their favorite and also rated the entire experiment as more pleasant.

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                                                    • Quoidbach, Jordi, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. 2013. Give it up: A strategy for combatting hedonic adaptation. Social Psychological and Personality Science 4:563–568.

                                                      DOI: 10.1177/1948550612473489Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Researchers randomly assigned participants to one of three conditions: eat as much chocolate as they want, abstain from eating chocolate, or no instructions regarding chocolate. After one week, those who abstained from eating chocolate savored a piece of chocolate more and reported greater positive affect than the other two groups.

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                                                      • Seligman, Martin E. P., Tracy A. Steen, Nasoon Park, and Christopher Peterson. 2005. Positive psychology progress. American Psychologist 60:410–421.

                                                        DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Participants in a “Three Good Things” condition were asked to write down three positive events that happened to them each day and explain why those good events occurred. Compared to a control condition, writing about three positive events was more effective at improving happiness levels one month, three months, and six months after the intervention.

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                                                        • Vohs, Kathleen D., Yajin Wang, Francesca Gino, and Michael I. Norton. 2013. Rituals enhance consumption. Psychological Science 24:714–1721.

                                                          DOI: 10.1177/0956797613478949Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Across four experiments, participants were asked to consume a food or drink that was either preceded by a ritual or not (i.e., breaking a chocolate bar in a prescribed way, or eating it as usual). Participants engaging in the ritual reported higher rates of savoring and enjoyment, particularly when the ritual was performed by the consumer (as opposed to merely being observed). Rituals as a means of savoring-promotion are discussed.

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                                                          • Wilson, Timothy D., David B. Centerbar, Deborah Ann Kermer, and Daniel T. Gilbert. 2005. The pleasures of uncertainty: Prolonging positive moods in ways people do not anticipate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88:5–21.

                                                            DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.1.5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Contrary to their expectations, participants who were given positive feedback that was couched in uncertainty (i.e., they did not know who provided the feedback) thought about the positive event longer and were happier about it, compared to those participants who knew who provided the feedback. Presumably, positive uncertainly allowed participants to mull over the event longer, keeping it a source of enjoyment for an extended period.

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                                                            Future-Oriented Interventions

                                                            These studies find that looking ahead to the future can promote savoring in the present. Kurtz 2008 finds that thinking about upcoming college graduation encourages appreciation, motivation, and happiness in college seniors. Quoidbach, et al. 2009 finds that imagining a positive future leads to increased reports of happiness, while Schueller 2010 finds that imagining how they would like their life story relayed were marginally happier than a control group. While savoring has not been pinpointed as the specific mechanism, King 2001 and Boehm, et al. 2011 find that visualizing one’s best possible future self—essentially, savoring hypothetical successes—is linked to enhanced well-being.

                                                            • Boehm, Julia K., Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Kennon M. Sheldon. 2011. A longitudinal experimental study comparing the effectiveness of happiness-enhancing strategies in Anglo Americans and Asian Americans. Cognition & Emotion 25:1152–1167.

                                                              DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2010.541227Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Extended the work of King 2001, finding that the benefits of writing about best-possible selves persist for six weeks, when doing the practice on one’s own.

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                                                              • King, Laura A. 2001. The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27:798–807.

                                                                DOI: 10.1177/0146167201277003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                These two studies examined the emotional impact of thinking about one’s “best possible self,” an ideal future whereby one achieves his or her most important goals and true potential. Positive mood scores significantly increase after doing this exercise just once in the laboratory.

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                                                                • Kurtz, Jaime L. 2008. Looking to the future to appreciate the present: The benefits of perceived temporal scarcity. Psychological Science 19:1238–1241.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02231.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Six weeks before college graduation, college seniors were asked to write about their college experience, with some reminded of the fact that graduation was soon and others reminded that it was still somewhat far off. After two weeks of adopting this mindset, those asked to think that graduation being soon were significantly happier than they were at the start of the study. They were also more appreciative and more motivated to make the most of their remaining time.

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                                                                  • Quoidbach, Jordi, Alex M. Wood, and M. Hansenne. 2009. Back to the future: The effect of daily practice of mental time travel into the future on happiness and anxiety. Journal of Positive Psychology 4:349–355.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/17439760902992365Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Participants were randomly assigned to imagine four positive, negative, or neutral events that could reasonably happen to them the following day (or a measures-only control group). After fifteen consecutive days of the activity, those in the positive mental time travel condition increased in happiness from pre-test to post-test.

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                                                                    • Schueller, Stephen M. 2010. Preferences for positive psychology exercises. Journal of Positive Psychology 5:192–203.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/17439761003790948Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      In one of six different positive interventions, participants were asked to describe exactly how they would like to have their life stories relayed to their children or grandchildren. A few days later, they reviewed what they had written and made any changes. A week later, they reported marginally higher happiness scores relative to their pretests.

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