Yesterday was my favorite day of the year. Or one of three, to be more accurate. My annual birthday present to each of my three kids is a “day out with mom.” As their birthday approaches, we sit down and plan their dream day out together. We talk about their favorite activities, and research events happening in Seattle like plays, museum exhibits or festivals. Then we set up a schedule for the day with every detail carefully planned out.
My fourteen-year-old son Keenan’s “days out” have included snowboarding, a tour of Theo chocolate factory, and a visit to Archie McPhee’s joke shop to spend his birthday money. My seven-year-old daughter Olivia and I have enjoyed swimming, lunch at McDonalds, watching The Frog Prince play and visiting her favorite bakery and bookstore as part of her “days out.”
Yesterday was my youngest daughter Signe’s “day out” to celebrate her fifth birthday. She had been planning it for months, dreaming about all the possible adventures we could have together. Positive psychologists tell us the process of imagining positive outcomes and fantasizing about upcoming events is a key savoring technique that helps us maximize our experiences. Through anticipation, we can generate a host of positive feelings even before the event happens.
As the day came closer, we made a list of all the options (there were seventeen by that point!), and prioritized the list. A few items had to fall off, but I ensured her there would be a lifetime of birthdays out to do them all. Then we penciled out our schedule, which looked like this:
8:00 am Signe’s favorite breakfast – granola, yogurt, strawberries and milk
9:00 am Drive to the downtown Seattle waterfront for a ride on the carousel
10:00 am Ride on the big ferris wheel
11:00 am Take the water taxi over to West Seattle
12:00 pm Visit Salty’s for fish and chips
2:00 pm Walk through Pike Place market and see the “gum wall”
3:30 pm Stop for gelati at Procoppio
4:30 pm Walk through the gardens and pick blackberries at Luther Burbank park
When the day arrived, Signe could hardly contain her excitement. It was a perfect blue-sky Seattle day, and the waterfront sparkled with possibilities. We conquered the list top to bottom, and finally rested our weary feet near Pike Place Market.
“Mom, I’m having a Perfect Moment,” Signe announced contentedly as we sat on a bench overlooking the water, licking our hazelnut and pistachio gelati.
Signe is a master at recognizing a perfect moment and savoring it. Research on brain activity has shown that savoring ‒ tuning into your senses and noticing what makes you feel good right here, right now ‒ can make the part of our brain that registers positive emotions more active. Savoring can strengthen our immune system, and help us cope better under stress.
Savoring the positive experiences in life is one of the most important ingredients of happiness. It’s about taking a deep breath, slowing down and paying conscious attention to everything you are seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling. We can savor the past by reminiscing, the present by being fully engaged in the moment, and the future by anticipating and fantasizing about upcoming events. During a perfect moment, we can intensify our positive feelings by recognizing and being grateful for the experience, and heighten our pleasure by sharing it with others. We can also relive those perfect moments later through stories or pictures.
The kids tell me their “day out with mom” is their second favorite day of the year (after Christmas), but it’s my VERY favorite. It’s a rare treat to spend such quality one-on-one time with each child, doing their very favorite things. Each “day out” is captured on film and gets a page in the family yearbook to make sure every birthday detail is preserved in history, and we can enjoy those positive feelings again and again each time we recall the event.
If you haven’t planned a day out with your child recently, get one on the calendar. They’re a key ingredient in a happy life.