Savory, Mindfulness, and Qualitative Experiences

If any of you have dogs, you know that they love treats.  Just imagine your dog jumping for joy when they see their treats.  Their tails are wagging extremely fast, and they’ll do anything to get that treat.  It’s like candy to them.

Here’s what I don’t quite understand though: usually with sweets, you want to take your time and eat them.  It’s to savor the taste.  I’ve noticed that when people eat dessert, they usually eat it more slowly.  We like sugar and we look forward to dessert.

Dogs, however, they just instantly gobble it down.  So what’s the deal?  They don’t savor the flavor.  Why do dogs take in everything, both food and treats, without savoring the flavor?  They seem to look forward to the treats but they don’t slow down.  Why?

It could be that they don’t have the sensors to detect the “sweet” things.  But that can’t be totally right.  Animals have evolved to desire sweet things to get their burst of energy. What may be sweet to them may not be sweet to us, but that doesn’t deny the fact that they desire sweet things.

Maybe it has to do with savoring things.  Perhaps our human culture is structured where we generally savor sweet things and other foods we just passively eat.  So savoring things may be a cultural phenomena rather than a biological one.

Not my image

Maybe it’s more infectious than we thought.  To savor things, we savor good wines, good cigars, good perfume, and good paintings.  Yes, I know that savoring things is mainly dedicated to our gustatory and olfactory faculties, but I think the analogy could extend to our visual faculties too.

When we savor things, we like to take our time.  Why? We use this time to simply enjoy “the finer things in life.” However, time is often equated with money.  Those who have the extra time can either use that time for the object they are savoring, but also spend that money for this finer thing to savor. Savoring something seems to focus on the minute details of that beer, that soufflé, that cigar, that crushed velvet, that painting. It’s to increase the sensitivity of your sensory palate so that you can sense the various flavor notes, the smell the particular scents, to see the particular dots from the impressionist paintings. But from someone who has no need or a point to highlight these minutiae, it’s just a waste of time. To those who have no interest in developing these extra sensitive palates, savoring is wasting time.  Indeed, savoring seems to be an exercise among those who have extra time, or at least can spend the money to make the time. Perhaps savoring things is an elitist activity.

I would like to see a study to see if savoring things were mainly meant for the rich and aristocracies.  One hypothesis is that anyone could see a painting or smell perfume. But to distinguish the upper class from the rest, maybe the aristocratic class developed a route where having an extra sensitive palate was the mark of a distinguished person and that meant to use your time to develop an extra sensitive palate. The commoners didn’t have this extra time and so they couldn’t develop a high palate and just had a “common palate.” Savoring seems to be dedicated to the “high pleasures.”  These are the pleasures that are dedicated to the high arts, the pleasures that exercise the mental faculties, or those that supposedly make yourself into a cultivated person. And since the higher class considered themselves and distinguished and cultivated, they alone could experience and enjoy these “higher pleasures.”

Is it true that the more time you have, the more you can savor?  Well, we often say that time is money, but a recent study has shown wealthy people have a weaker ability to savor things. Maybe it was because nowadays, wealthy people are in a state of up keeping their wealth and so their focus is on the things to make the wealth flow. The aristocratic class, however, were already wealthy and did not really worry about losing it compared to today’s wealth perhaps. I’m not sure. I don’t know the history of economics or what the attitudes of the wealthy today are different from the wealthy of the past.

But perhaps this isn’t the correct picture of what it means to savor something. Maybe savoring isn’t about experiencing high culture, but simply experiencing period. Pop culture and pop psychology have suggested that savoring something means not only experience various objects, but to experience that experience. In other words, don’t savor simply to increase a heightened palate, but simply to enjoy the experience itself. We say things like “be in the moment” or “enjoy the experience” or “enjoy the journey.” Indeed, many millennials are spending money not on objects or material possessions, but on experiences.

I can see this as a route to savor something, and this route would shift the meanings and the point of experiencing something. Not only would this include paintings, wine, and perfumes, but also simply being with friends, taking a trip to where ever and record it on social media, and surrounding yourself with like-minded people to simply enjoy people’s company. The experiences where we can “savor the moment” are different than our everyday, mundane experiences. They are meant to be mindful of the experiences where we “soak up the experience.” The savory, here, isn’t so much about class or wealth, but more about what am I going to do with my time to make it meaningful?

I’m not here to show which is the correct view of savoring things. Perhaps, if anything, this is an observation piece just to notice what it means to savor something. But the shift has moved from an elitist position, to more of simply mindfulness…

But now isn’t mindfulness an elitist activity? We often hear about the benefits of mindfulness. There are numerous studies that show that mindfulness has health benefits by reducing stress. Those who practice mindfulness, it seems, are those who have the extra time. So isn’t there a worry that we just end up with the same problem? Maybe, but I don’t think mindfulness has to necessarily be considered as those who have extra time, but perhaps more about priorities. We often squeeze our time to make sure we can watch our favorite tv shows, see that extra Netflix episode, or stay up to fall into a YouTube hole. We make room to perform our hobbies and the things that we enjoy. We never consider mindfulness as another activity that is part of our routine. I have to admit, I try to get into mindfulness by meditating fifteen minutes a day. The longest stretch was three months, but then I stopped. Why? Because I had other things to take care of and when I was tired, I would rather mindlessly watch a tv episode rather than try and be mindful. I do think being mindful helped me out, but it is difficult once you start since your mind wanders constantly. However, I did notice that I was more present, more focused, and more in the experience through mindfulness practices. I guess you could say that I had a better ability to savor my experiences.

The savory shift from having things to experiencing things moves the savory aspects from those in the external world to our internal world. The external savoriness had to do with the more distinguished material thing: the more expensive the item was, the deeper you could savor that item. In a way, more money = a deeper savory experience from the external world. But for the internal savoriness, we aim toward quantity. The more experiences we have, the better. But what if you could deepen your savory experiences too? Perhaps mindfulness is the key so that you not only experience what you are experiencing, but making those experiences more present-like, more qualitative. Thus, the move, it seems, is that mindfulness = a deeper savory experience from the internal world.

Does this mean that we should all exercise mindfulness in order to really enjoy our experiences? Not necessarily. Many people enjoy their experiences without mindfulness. But I wonder: is it just the quantity of experiences, or the quality that people enjoy? This brings me back to the beginning of this post. Savoring is to momentarily use your time to take in the experience. It seems that savoring is correlated with qualitative experiences. This doesn’t mean that we should aim for quality instead of quantity. What it does give us is a route to know what it means to savor something, and that when we do, it seems that we focus on the quality. The more we can develop that palate, the more we can appreciate that specific experience. Savor it!

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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