Valentine’s Day always reminds me of how we have become a society that can take anything positive and turn it into a problem, even a beautiful day designed to take a moment to show the special people in our lives how much we love them. Okay, if we’re being technical, it was a day established to honor various Saints and martyrs, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a day to celebrate the love we have for each other. It’s a day devoted to love. Regardless of my place in life at the time, I have always loved Valentine’s Day. I enjoy watching others smile when a bouquet of roses is delivered to their office. I like to see them snuggle a bear or hold a heart-shaped chocolate box close to them as they think about the person who was thinking about them. I even enjoy seeing the men running to the flower counter of Kroger sifting through the leftover vases for the perfect arrangement that says, “I almost missed it, but I took the time to pick this up.”
So what if it’s a commercialized creation that overemphasizes the romantic notion of love? Yes, you can (and should) show your love every day, but the reality is, we often don’t. We get busy, and in pursuit of our lives, we forget to show each other exactly how important they are. Valentine’s Day is an intentional opportunity to pause and reflect on how much we love each other. Ahh. It’s the perfect day.
Yet, inevitably, a few days before, I start hearing rumbles and seeing memes that highlight just how horrible it is to be single this time of year or how we are preparing ourselves to be disappointed. The day comes and goes, and my feed is full of pictures of flowers, breakfasts, and chocolates along with more “down with Valentine’s Day” memes. But it doesn’t just stop there.
Today is February 15, the day AFTER the big day. Today, yesterday’s joyful receivers of chocolate get to start complaining about how terrible they feel for actually eating the chocolate. “Just as I got going on my diet, I have all this chocolate. Ugh!” “Boo hoo. I just ate three pieces of chocolate. I am such a loser! How will I resist the rest of this box?!” Looking at a beautiful bouquet of flowers already starting to wilt, “Great, just another thing in this house I have to take care of.” I get it. I have been there too. I have hidden the chocolate from myself and whined because I was too tempted. I have watched the flowers die and felt guilty for not “caring enough” to take care of them properly. Believe it or not, I have even despised the day because I knew someone was using it as a good opportunity to scrape up the courage to let me know how they felt just to have me give them the ” I don’t want to lose you as a friend” speech. I have felt guilty for being disappointed and “materialistic”. I have had all of the feelings.
But why do we do this to ourselves? For the love of all things wonderful, why do we take something so beautiful and sweet and turn it into something negative? Why do we take a day that highlights love for one another and make it all about us? Can we not be happy for each other? Can we not just enjoy the chocolate with our special person or even locked alone in our bedrooms? Can we not just enjoy one day completely devoted to expressing appreciation for someone else?
When I hear someone lamenting about the chocolate they just ate or the money spent on flowers, it makes me a little sad that they choose to look at the situation through the lens of negativity. Every attitude we hold and express is a choice. We choose to see the situation as positive or negative. And what an incredible gift that is. In fact, it is the best gift you can give yourself (and others) all year long. Choosing to focus on the positive, see love, and express gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving and best of all, it’s free. Well, that’s not really the best of all, but for those complaining about the commercialization of love, you’d probably like that part.
I’m sure many of you have seen the article floating around over the last year or so stating that practicing gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happier. This article highlights a 2015 study in which three different groups were asked to keep a daily journal of either positive events, negative events, or neutral events. Those in the positive event group self-reported feeling more optimistic and positive months later. They were also more physically active and went to the doctor less during the time of the study.
Now, according to another article referencing this same study, these results did not apply to middle-aged divorced women or adolescents asked to write letters of gratitude to someone else. So, these groups may be off the hook for expressing gratitude through letters or journals, but there are still plenty of reported benefits of gratitude, so hang with me.
The expression of gratitude, even in it’s simplest form, has been shown to release dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is the “give me more” chemical. It is linked to addictions because it stimulates the “feel good” areas of the brain, making you want more. Can you imagine a world of people addicted to gratitude? I don’t typically advocate for gluttony or the lack of self-control, but I think binging out on gratitude and appreciation is just what our world needs right now.
If you received chocolates, flowers, or the last wrinkled card from CVS, instead of focusing on the petals to clean up, the extra cardio you’ll have to do, or how late your partner waited to buy you a sign of love, go out of your way to show extra appreciation. It may not feel like much at first, and you probably won’t have a magical moment of sudden addiction, but you will begin to build the habit of gratitude over complaining, optimism over pessimism, and love over worry.
Happy belated Valentine’s Day friends. I wish you all the joy and chocolate the 50% off seasonal section at Walmart can provide. If you do gorge on chocolate, please do us all a favor and just enjoy it!