As a follow up to my last blog entry, I wanted to elaborate on how the dedication of merit can be used not only as a motivating force in times of challenge, but also as a means to heighten, prolong, and extend feelings of joy. Dedication of merit can be an expression of what positive psychologists refer to as “savoring” or acknowledging and building upon positive experiences . You know when you are experiencing a really wonderful moment in your life, like a gorgeous sunset shared with someone you love, a really fabulous meal in a beautiful city, or a perfect day in nature? Savoring strategies allow you to enhance these already enjoyable experiences by bringing mindful attention to the details of the positive experiences, as if to slow down time and absorb all of these sensations more completely. Think about this in the example of eating a decadent piece of cake. You can scarf it down in 3 ravenous bites. Or you can enjoy it one bite at a time, tasting each morsel, letting it roll around on your tongue, pausing before each bite to notice the colors, textures, and nuances in flavor and scent, and taking slow intentional breaths as you eat. These principles don’t just apply to how we eat food, but how we experience any pleasurable moment in life. Savoring is linked with greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction, and lower levels of depression in aging adults .
Dedication of merit combines the principle of savoring along with an invitation to extend moments of joyfulness and bliss for the benefit of others. This practice has been a game-changer for me. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the truth is that I, like many people, have a hard time allowing myself to fully experience joy. But I don't take this personally, as the human brain is hard-wired for threat detection. That's why so many of our happiest life experiences are accompanied by fear, because we are constantly trying to predict and prevent how we might lose our grasp on joy. To make matters more complicated, cultures often confound happiness with selfishness. We tend to believe that, in light of all the suffering in this world, personal happiness is selfish and unwarranted. However, we can reconcile these feelings of guilt and shame when we redefine personal joy as a means to honor others and express our gratitude for this life. When we practice dedication of merit, we give ourselves permission to experience happiness. Ultimately, by claiming and embracing experiences of joy, we can better contribute to the transformation of our entire society into a more joyful, loving, and peaceful world.
I have so many occasions worthy of dedication, but it’s most obvious to me when I get a chance to do something I truly love. For example, whether it's a big performance in front of an audience, or a brief moment alone in my home, I dedicate the merit of my joyful dancing to the memory of my mother, my uncle (who was a ballet dancer), my family in Iran, those living beings who are too afraid or unable to dance, finally I extend my dedication to all living beings in search of emotional liberation.
Dedication of merit is a powerful practice that you can easily implement into your day. Next time you embark on a long hike or an invigorating run on the beach, perhaps you can internally acknowledge the details of this experience in honor of those who are unable to run or walk. Or maybe next time you prepare a nourishing meal for yourself and your family, notice how the experience can be amplified by dedicating the merit to all those who are without the means to enjoy the same benefits. In this way, dedication of merit transforms mundane experiences into sacred ritual, and the otherwise fleeting moments of joy unfold into endless opportunities to honor and celebrate the complex interconnections between our personal experiences and all those with whom we share this world.
1. Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
2. Smith, J. L., & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 19(3), 192-200.