Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays, more so now that I'm divorced. Gone are the expectations and disappointments that often accompanied it in the past. Now, I can participate in my own way.
I know many people view this mid-winter pop-up holiday as a manufactured exercise in consumerism and insecurity. But I see it as an opportunity to celebrate love more broadly. Romantic love is NOT the only kind of love around. And as anyone who has had a partner knows, it can be pretty thorny. We all have love in our lives, and this a great chance to celebrate the other people we care about.
We don't want to feel that our own happiness is in the hands of someone else, or dependent upon an ideal from which we are excluded. Resilience after loss has been correlated with a sense of agency, as this study by Lisa Capps and George Bonanno (link is external) shows. You want to feel that you do have control over your own life and your own happiness.
Here are three ways to love Valentine's Day, while divorced or single:
- Bring the Love to Someone Who Needs It: Many of us feel isolated during the holidays, but we are not the only ones experiencing loneliness. This is a great time to bring love to someone who needs it--bring a heart-shaped box of candy to an elderly single neighbor, donate a baby bear to a child in need, plan a night out for your single friends. Classic research in positive psychology shows that doing something for someone else makes people feel happier than doing something supposedly fun, like going to a movie. I like this summation from pursuit-of-happiness.org (link is external). "People who care for others' well-being through acts of altruism, volunteering, or formation of communal relationships seem to be happier and less depressed." Don't wait for the love to come to you.
- Celebrate the Love Your DO Have: Rather than focusing on the partner who's not there, embrace the love that's in your life now. Valentine's Day is a great excuse to plan a trip to reconnect with college friends or host a cookie-decorating party for girlfriends. (I'm hosting a cookie decorating party; expressing myself creatively boosts my mood, particularly when frosting and sprinkles are involved.) You might do a love-themed craft with your kids. Or start a tradition of celebrating Family Love Day. Some of us who are divorced even send a Valentine's Day greeting to our ex, thanking her for our wonderful children, perhaps, or acknowledging the good years we had together.
- Get Physical: Okay not like that. Well, sort of. Research shows that the mere act of hugging yourself creates feelings of being loved and nurtured. "We know for sure, based on research, that self-touch lowers your cortisol levels and activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, which is what calms you down," says University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Kristin Neff. Or throw yourself into a Total Body experience by getting a body scrub, planning a day-long hike, going skiing, go to the spa. Let everyone else eat chocolate--and then complain about the weight gain the next day. You'll be glowing from your healthy hike.