“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
What does Valentine’s Day mean to you? It’s funny but I tend to find that people either love it and see it is an opportunity to really celebrate and express love (simultaneously with millions of others – which I think is something special in itself) or they feel coerced into sending red roses, a card or taking their loved ones out to a romantic dinner – but basically believe it’s a “money-making rort”! Others simply become the “Valentine’s Day Grinch” and do nothing or try to spoil the fun for those who do celebrate Valentine’s Day!
Of course, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and today’s blog is not sponsored by “Hallmark Cards” but I thought it might be interesting and helpful to take a look at the psychological benefits (to you) of celebrating Valentine’s Day, even in a small way and without spending money if you’d prefer not to.
Firstly, love has not historically been a big topic in psychology. I only recall one lecture on love in my post-graduate studies (none in my undergraduate studies) and it was looking at types of love – to read more about Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201308/which-the-7-types-love-relationships-fits-yours.
More recently however, with the emergence of the field of Positive Psychology, love has become a hot topic. So here are my top 3 tips based on the research that might spur you on to consider Valentine’s Day in a different light:
1. Leverage Love as a Character Strength. “Capacity to love and be loved” is one of the 24 character strengths identified through scientific research (www.viacharacter.org). It’s also known as one of the “golden 5”, which means it’s one of the 24 character strengths that is most highly correlated with well-being. Now “Love” is not one of my “signature strengths” (ie top 5) but it’s one of my core life values and I am committed to living and using it more consciously. And recent research has shown that you can cultivate more love and/or loving kindness towards others (read more here – http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%20et%20al%202008.pdf). So try to consider Valentine’s Day as a wonderful reminder and opportunity to leverage love as a character strength and more consciously commit to using it by looking for opportunities to express your love eg a hand-written love letter which may mean more to your loved one/s than an expensive dinner!
2. Let Love In. You may have noticed that the Character Strength of “Love” incorporates both the capacity “to love” and “be loved”. In my professional work with clients over the years, this is one of the most challenging aspects of love and of creating loving relationships. Like the quote at the beginning of this blog, it’s often “us” that are the biggest blockers to love. Many of us have emotional baggage from childhood or failed relationships that can interfere (often unconsciously) with our capacity to receive love. We might feel unworthy of love and find it hard to believe and accept that someone can love us or frightened that if we let love in, we’ll only be hurt – again! Why not use Valentine’s Day to curiously explore these blockers (if you have them) and consider engaging in an act of “self-love” by seeking professional assistance to nail those “issues” once and for all (www.psychology.org.au).
3. Rethink the Concept of Love. Professor Barbara Fredrickson (author of Love 2.0 – http://www.bookdepository.com/Love-2-0-Barbara-Fredrickson/9781594630996 ) provides scientific evidence to show that love is not what we think it is. It’s not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of family. Rather, it’s what she calls a “micro-moment of positivity resonance”. Professor Fredrickson suggests that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or a salesperson in a store. Consider using Valentine’s Day to create “micro-moments” of love with everyone you meet!
OK, so you’re thinking this is all well and good if you’re in a relationship and feeling the love but what if you’re single?? I spent many years as a “single” on Valentine’s Day and used to be the “Valentine’s Day Grinch”. However I had an epiphany many years ago, when I was still single and looking for love, and that was that I had a choice. I could choose to view Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate love in the broader sense of the word and generally be more loving towards everyone I met (much like the micro-moments of love) – or I could continue to be grumpy and miserable.
In making that choice, I realised I was benefiting by supporting my own well-being – both psychologically and physically – now proven by science. I also decided that I wasn’t going to miss out just because I was single so decided that on Valentine’s Day I would invest in a small gift for myself. In fact one year, I decided that I deserved a BIG gift and took myself off to one of the most beautiful and expensive jewellery stores in the city and bought myself a ring – not a diamond ring – but a ring that would symbolise self-love and bring me joy each time I looked at it. So I know it’s possible to enjoy Valentine’s Day even if you’re single – you just need to be creative!
I hope I’ve inspired you to consider or reconsider Valentine’s Day as a day to consider or reconsider love. That doesn’t mean that every other day of the year we shouldn’t be loving towards others or ourselves, but that Valentine’s Day can be a special day that is dedicated to the power of love! Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
Lots of love, PI & I (Suzy)