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Of Sense and Sensuality
Savor richly and you'll live longer. Here's how.
It’s springtime in Provence. The colors and smells of local markets have shifted notably with the sudden onset of warmer weather. Local strawberries, asparagus, and artichokes fill the market stalls with their vivid reds and greens. The sweet fragrance of the berries mixes with the earthy scent of fresh basil and mint, bunched in bouquets and piled in leafy mounds. The seductive mix tugs on my senses from a distance. So very unfair. Well now it’s impossible to leave without a purchase.
I was at a friend’s home in the countryside last weekend. The fields by his cottage were flooded in bright red poppies, their delicate petals spread wide to the sun and swaying gently. Larks were whistling in a distant tree line. Wisteria blooms hung in heavy lavender clumps in his garden. His daughter called me over to give them a sniff. It was the peak of the day and we opened a bottle of chilled rosé, put out some Greek olives. Sensation overdose. Healthy hedonism.
The merits of indulgence
I love this time of year; that fresh spring dawn after a long winter night (which has its own merits. Read here.). Rebirth and new plans. Stimulation and inspiration and so many things to smell, taste, hear, see, and share. It fuels a deep sense of revival and limitlessness.
You may want to listen to these larks singing while you read on.
This indulgence of the senses, this spring sensuality is a great equalizer. Fresh-picked strawberries taste no better to the millionaire than the pauper. A hillside full of poppies looks no more stunning. One could argue that those with little appreciate these things more deeply than those with lots, but I won’t argue that. I have plenty of friends from both ends of that spectrum. It has less to do with wealth, more to do with a deep respect for those joys that only nature can conjure, that cannot be improved upon with more money. It brings us all together, to wonder at it all, and indulge.
Wade deeply into your senses, be seduced, swish them around like a good wine, close your eyes and become the sponge, savor, … life will feel richer and you may live longer. This is true actually, and backed up with empirical evidence. Research at Victoria University in New Zealand (by Erica Chadwick) and Harvard (by Jordi Quoidbach) identify the many benefits of savoring, including stronger relationships, improved emotional health, and enhanced creativity. All are known to favor more happy years above the dirt.
Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University, has written extensively on this topic, including in his 2006 book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience. Bryant offers a variety of tips on training that savoring muscle. I condense it down to 3:
Awareness. Be acutely conscious of the moment you engage a sensation; something you smell or taste or hear or see. Go slow, ponder its effect, decipher. Luxuriate in the tingle (go on, you deserve it), immerse wholly, be the sponge.
Sharing. Share the moments and joys of sensory entanglement with others. Build bonds through the heady indulgence. There is no single factor more important to living longer, happier lives than close relationships. (Skeptical? Well Harvard say so! Click here.)
Gratitude. Simple indulgences shared with close friends are blessings. Respect your good fortune. Epicurus is surely smiling down at you. Embrace the pleasures and never take them for granted. Be humble, be grateful, and invite the happiness.
Protection from temptation
Of course there may be those who find this concept of sense and sensuality a bit too scandalous. Market strawberries dipped in Swiss chocolate, … and hand fed to me while in recline?! Abhorrent!
For those of you in this frightful camp, fear not, there is hope. The best prophylactic against incitement of the senses? That portable portal to all things digital, pixelated, and synthetic. It slips in your pocket and holds neatly in your hand. Never leave home without it. Your phone.
Arousal of the senses requires earthly engagement. Smelling things, tasting things, touching things, hearing things, and all of this done organically. It comes with a bit of dirt under the fingernails, a sunburn on the cheeks, your feet may get wet. For all the marvels of modern technology - and I have built a career around this stuff - it will never hack mother earth and the sensuality she offers.
The phone is a perfect prophylactic against these primal, libidinous stimulations. For those who prefer digital approximation and virtual isolation to deep and dirty organic engagement. Why talk with the friend at your side when you can text to your friend at a distance. And when those 2 swap places you can text with the former sidekick. Missing you! ❤️ See, no need to actually engage in spontaneous, interactive dialog. We used to call that a conversation. Quant.
Strawberries? Plenty of photos online, and of flowers too. Just google it! You don’t even need to learn their names. I’m sure you can find an influencer or 2 in Provence with plenty of staged and artificially filtered photos. As far as the smell, taste, and touch of something organic and alive, … eww, that might require an antiseptic. Thank god for Apple.
Before I close, an open offer:
The outdoor markets in France are amazing in their variety, respect for all things local and seasonal, and great prices (no middle men!). The markets in Provence are the best in France, … well I’m biased. If you are passing through Aix-en-Provence and interested in a market crawl together get in touch. This is a pleasure for the senses that I love to share.