Valentine’s Day = Happiness?
Not your take on the day? Perhaps you consider Valentine’s Day to be one of unhappiness.
For many people, Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind nails the sentiment of the day when his character Joel states:
Today [Valentine’s Day] is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.
There are entire message boards on the myth debunking website Snopes.com dedicated to dispelling this false idea. Valentine’s Day was not invented by Hallmark.
So what is the origin of Valentine’s Day if not an invented one? Does it hold a significance outside of romantic love?
If Valentine’s Day makes you want to run for the hills, you are missing out on a great opportunity to increase your happiness! Hang in there and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.
But first, let’s address how Valentine’s came to be a day many love to hate in the first place.
The day of love started with death
Pagan rituals and debauchery, anyone?
The historical origins of Valentine’s Day are in fact pretty terrible.
Death. Torture. Abuse.
Ancient Romans celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia in honor of the god Lupercus annually between February 13th and 15th. And by “celebrate”, I mean exuberant participation in orchestrated sex and fertility ceremonies.
The feast even becomes entangled with beheadings under Emperor Claudius II. The Roman priest Valentine was imprisoned and later executed on February 14th for performing secret wedding ceremonies against the emperor’s wishes.
Valentine’s farewell note to a female friend before his death was simply signed “From Your Valentine”.
Thus, Valentine’s Day was born. Very romantic.
Then how did death turn into a happy celebration of love?
The dark history was brightened with help from writers like Shakespeare and Chaucer. One of the main characters in Shakespeare’s first plays, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, was even named Valentine.
The play’s theme is love and all of the goofy things we do in the name of it.
But since thou lovest, love still and thrive therein,
Even as I would when I to love begin. – Valentine, Act I: Scene I
Notes were written. Poems were penned. Handmade cards were exchanged. Valentine’s Day became a celebration of romantic love.
The oldest know surviving love letter associated with Valentine's Day. Written on February 1477, by a soon-to-be wife, letting her fiancé know her father would not provide any additional financial assistance.
And then Valentine’s Day took on a life of it’s own. The story became about gifts and money and sales and mass produced greeting cards.
A manufactured day of forced romance.
It seems for many, we have been dooped. We’ve traded one bad story line for another.
But, there can be more to this story. Your story.
You can reinvent Valentine’s Day
It may very well be a made-up holiday.
But you can reclaim it. Don’t let the story end with commercialism and unrealistic expectations.
Make it about connection. About community. Our need for relationship. Something everyone can participate in.
And you don’t have to be romantically involved to join in.
We all need to hear it – especially on Valentine’s Day.
We all need to be reminded that we are loved. That we belong. It’s what we crave. We are wired for connection.
Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman studied the brain activity of individuals who suddenly found themselves excluded from a simple game of catch.
The emotional hurt of being left out – of feeling disconnected from others – actually manifested itself the same way physical pain does.
Your connections with others are important. Friends, co-workers, neighbors, spouses, even your local barista. They all form the web of personal connections that define your life.
Without them, like with the simple game of catch, you feel left out. Alone. Isolated. Hurt.
We need to feel needed. Important. Valuable.
Psychologists have long acknowledged a phenomenon called the “Hawthorne Effect”. Researchers in the 1920’s interviewed employees at the textile mill Hawthorne Works. They wanted to improve productivity and job satisfaction.
But a curious thing happened.
The actual act of conducting the research project led to an unexpected discovery.
Employee productivity rose during the multi year research process, but returned to normal after the study was completed.
Workers enjoyed the attentiveness they received from researchers during the study. Someone took an interest in them and they performed better.
Once no one cared, they stopped trying. The connection was lost.
Positive affirmation matters. It motivates us. Makes us feel more connected. To each other.
Valentine’s Day offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate those connections. To say “I appreciate you”, “I like you”, “Thank you for being in my life”.
Valentine’s Day is not just for romantics. It’s for all of us. For all of us to give to others.
You’re happier when you give love
We love being loved.
But our level of happiness is actually connected with how we express love to others.
A recent article in Psychology Today discusses our need to give love.
Most of us believe that a significant determinant of our happiness is whether we feel loved and cared for … however, most of us fail to recognize that we have a parallel need: the need to love and care for others.
We know that the desire to love and care for others is hard-wired and deep-seated because fulfillment of this desire enhances our happiness levels.
Want to feel happier this Valentine’s Day?
Give love to others. Not just romantic love. But all types of love.
Connect in a meaningful way with everyone you meet. Make it a point to encourage, inspire, appreciate those you see.
Make this your happiest Valentine’s Day yet:
- Take flowers to a lonely neighbor.
- Deliver cookies to a local fire station.
- Buy a cup of coffee for a stranger.
- Send a handwritten note to a coworker.
- Make that phone call to a missed relative.
- Write a note to a friend.
- Take construction paper Valentines to a local hospital.
- Give someone a hug.
- High-five or fistbump a total stranger!
You get the idea.
It doesn’t take much. To share love. To improve your own inner happiness.
Now it’s up to you
Take matters into your own hands.
Don’t leave your level of happiness dependent upon someone else.
Put the focus on giving love away this year.
Do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa
Someone needs to hear it from you today. And truth be told, you need to say it.
Make this Valentine’s Day your happiest yet.
Then head over to Google+ and tell us your happy Valentine’s Day stories.
Public domain images provided by viintage.com