How to Put the Love Back in Valentine’s Day

by Alisa on February 13, 2012

Until last week, I wasn’t a fan of Valentine’s Day. That’s because, like many holidays, it has become overly commercialized. Rather than be a reminder of love, it now serves to create anxiety (did I get her the right gift?), loneliness (I don’t have anyone to spend Valentine’s Day with), inadequacy (I don’t have enough money to spring for a big dinner), stress (crap, I need to help my kid make 30 Valentine’s cards for her classmates), pride (I just bought the best Valentine’s gift ever) and overeating (do you really need a parenthetical on this?)

To me, love is not:

  • Clingy. It’s not “I can’t live without you” or “I can only be happy if you are in my life.” Yet, most Valentine’s cards use phrases just like these.
  • Controlling. It’s not “You’re mine or else you are no one’s.” Yet, “you’re mine” is on most cards and candies.
  • Bought. Yet most traditional Valentine’s activities center around gifts given and received, expensive dinners out, and flowers.
  • Boastful. It’s not about on-upping your friends about how great your Valentine’s day was.
  • Envious. It’s not about wishing you got more than you did.

Love isn’t about feeling empty inside. Quite the opposite, it’s about feeling abundant. It’s not about getting. It’s about giving.

So when I learned last week of the growing movement to rename February 14 Generosity Day, I became a fan again. Watch the video clip or go to the Generosity Day site for more information. Generosity Day is something that everyone can celebrate. You don’t have to have a date in order to be generous. You also don’t have to be wealthy. You can be generous by:

Saying yes for a day. Sasha Dichter, of the Acumen Fund, did that for a month, giving to any person who came to him and asked for his help. His Generosity Experiment is what led him to establish Generosity Day. It’s scary to think that you will say yes to everyone who wants your help, but also thrilling. I’ve been trying this technique for a while. You can read about my results here, here, and here.

Alleviating the suffering of others. Give blankets to the homeless. Feed hungry animals in your backyard. Kiss a child’s boo-boo. Hold the hand of someone who is fearful.

Teaching someone a life-changing skill. Show an elderly shut-in how to connect with others on Facebook. Become a literacy tutor and teach someone how to read. Share your unique knowledge and experience with others.

Being thankful. We are surrounded by kind people, but we rarely notice them. Where did your breakfast come from? Who grew and harvested the oats for your cereal? Who packaged it? Who drove it in a truck from one side of the country to another? Who rang it up for you at the grocery store? All of these people were kind enough to make sure you had breakfast to eat. Be thankful for them. Who paved the roads that you drive on? Who built your house? Who makes sure water comes out of your tap when you turn it on? The more you cultivate a thankful mindset, the easier it will be for you to thank people all around you—ranging from the waitress who serves you your dinner to the colleague who get the report in on time.

Making the world safer for others. Remove debris from the road. Fill the hole that is just waiting for someone to step into and sprain her ankle. Lobby to have a stop sign installed at the intersection that seems to have an accident every other day. Volunteer as a crossing guard.

Consoling others. Be there for friends, colleagues, family members and others who are grieving, alone, or going through tough times.

Listening to others. Give your ear. Sit down. Don’t look at your watch, and don’t interrupt.

Seeing others. Notice those around you. Acknowledge them. The more you notice, the more you will realize when someone is in need of your help—whether it’s to open a door for a mother with a carriage or put a heavy bag in the overhead for an elderly person on an airplane.

Sharing your wealth with the less fortunate. Give money. Give food. Give shelter. Give comfort.

Giving dignity. See someone’s potential, not his or her faults.

Giving knowledge. There is perhaps nothing more powerful than a book. I write books for a living. Whenever you give a book to someone else, you are also being generous toward book authors like me. Here are a few books to consider giving on Generosity Day and beyond:

Project: Happily Ever After (yes, that’s a shameless plug) or If It Were Easy They’d Call the Whole Thing a Honeymoon  for friends who are struggling in their relationships

All the Money in the World for people who struggle with financial decisions

 The Organized Kitchen or Parents Need to Eat Too for people who love to give by cooking for others

Eight Steps to Happiness for those who are working on their spiritual development

And while I’m on the topic of books that everyone needs, your might want to pre-order the upcoming Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

How will you be generous? What do you do to be generous everyday? Do you think Valentine’s is overly commercial? Or do you love and look forward to the holiday?

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Brette Sember February 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

Oh, I love this idea! At my house we don’t do much for this anyhow. I do buy my kids little gifts and I usually bake something chocolate, but that’s it. It’s a holiday that just sets too many expectations I think.

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Kathy February 13, 2012 at 11:41 am

Every holiday, in my opinion, has become over commercialized. Even President’s Day means some sale is happening.

I basically don’t even bother with Christmas anymore because it’s so commercialized. I send out Christmas cards. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts, because we buy what we want when we want if we have the money. Just about anything over $200, there is a discussion about it and the money is budgeted for the item.

Hubby and I are going to a hockey game tomorrow night. We thought that would be a fun and new way to spend Valentine’s.

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Angela Christian Pope February 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

I love this post about Generosity Day, and it has inspired me to put something similar on my site. I agree that this holiday, as well as all the others, is over commercialized. I wish you and your readers have a happy holiday!

http://www.ModernRelationship.org

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Elle February 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Lovely post. A great reminder that above all, love is kind.

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Sheryl February 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Great idea; generosity day. I, too, think Valentine’s Day is way over-commercialized. It makes me cringe when I think about all the gifts and dinners out I bought into when I was younger. But I think EVERY day should be generosity day. These are all great reminders to live by. The world would be a much better and more peaceful place, don’t you think?

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Kerry February 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Elle, above, said it best: this is a fine reminder that love is kind. and is shown in many ways.

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Harriet Cabelly February 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Hi Alisa,
My first time here. ‘Met’ you from The Bridgemaker group and you commented on my guest post. Love this post – really beautiful. Makes tomorrow take on a whole new meaning.
I love all your points; the one that stands out for me is ‘seeing others’. We are so caught up in our own thing – thoughts, gadgets, ourselves, that this seems so simple and obvious yet is so often not done. Just to notice, be aware of others will lend ourselves to doing more for people. Yesterday while driving I noticed the car in front of me had his gas cap completely opened. I drove to pull up to him on the side so I could tell him. He then pulled over to fix it. So simple. But you have to Notice it and then be proactice about doing something about it. Noticing without action doesn’t cut it.
Thanks for all your wonderful points of how to basically step out of ourselves and be more available to other’s needs.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi February 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I agree it is hard to give better gifts than things you make yourself or a book. Thanks for the fabulous post.

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Angela Artemis/Poweredbyintuition February 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Alisa,
Great idea. I feel the same way about Valentine’s Day being too commercial. We focus on romantic love to excess yet in the US we have one of the highest divorce rates in the world! Focusing on generosity and truly opening our hearts to be more compassionate and empathic would actually make the world a better place. Count me in!

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. February 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I absolutely love this post and will strive to practice kindness (instead of being my usual judgemental, picky self) all week… and see where that takes me. You might turn me into a giver after all!

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ruth pennebaker February 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm

What a lovely idea! I’ll plan to do this, but would still like a bouquet.

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Laura February 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm

I think the holiday is too commercial…I listen to my 14 year old telling me how he feels left out because he doesn’t have a girlfriend. It is heattbreaking but the reality is if you love someone you should tell them as ofen as possible not just on Valentine’s Day. I usually make cards for my hubby and kiddms but do not have a printer right now so I bought one for hubby and something small for each son. I also usually bake something for then like the chocolate heart shaped cakes I did tonight. Simple yet they all love it.

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Sarah Liz February 13, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I always thought of Valentine’s Day as a day for LOVE, period–all kinds of love and all relationships, not just lovers or romantic partners. Yes, it’s great to go the extra mile on Valentine’s Day and there’s nothing wrong with putting on a “show,” so to speak. But, I never understood waiting for ONE day a year to show your love to someone–whomever they may be. I want everyone in my life to know how much I love them and how important they are to me. It’s not just about romance, although that’s wonderful too! I think it’s more important to show your love and gratitude for your partner EVERY day, in many ways. So, to me, Valentine’s Day is over commerialized (like most holidays are) but I think at its root, it’s very sweet. As for generousity day, again, why pick just one day to be generous? I was generous today by doing a bunch of little things for people and was content to do them regardless of whether they noticed or not. But a national Generousity day is a fantastic idea, I agree! I wish each of you a very love-filled, peaceful and Happy Valentine’s Day, no matter how you choose to spend it or what it means to you!

Many Blessings,
-Sarah :)

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Claire February 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Awesome post! You have beautifully articulated the many reservations I have always had about Valentine’s Day, much better than I have! Thanks for some good suggestions.

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angelia February 14, 2012 at 10:16 am

I had never thought of Valentine’s Day in this way. I see what you are saying. Hubs and I decided we aren’t getting each other gifts this year. We are going to cook dinner and just spend time together.

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Claudine Jalajas February 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

I don’t know what it is–it’s just not a favorite of mine. I don’t like being forced to show someone I love them OR their being forced to show me. It’s much more impressive to get a surprise token of love when you’re not expecting it. And I really feel like cards are SUCH a waste of money/paper (unless you’re mailing them to someone that you don’t get to see very often because of geography.) I’m not a grump–I love my husband and kids and have a good group of family and friends. I just don’t want to see any heart shaped balloons or chocolate boxes coming my direction. (I would NOT say no to one of those GOLD boxes of chocolates though.. hehehehe)

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merr February 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

Good thoughts to bring into every day, you know?!

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Rose Byrd February 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

Alisa, truly SEEING others is so simple, so easy, so vital before we can do other things on this list like say yes, console, listen, give. Your list is totally wonderful, truly in the spirit of love. Bless you and thank you! I would like for you to check out my own post about the new shoes; I believe you will receive much inspiration for your own work! You and Lesley Carter definitely need to connect with each other! Her link is on my post “The Meaning of New Shoes”.

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Kristen February 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

I like generosity day. I let my husband I didn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day–it’s the things he does everyday that let me know he cares. We’ve had a crazy schedule lately and he’s been the first to ask, where do you want me to go, when, what can I do?

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Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart February 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day because FAR too many people feel like they can be total $#!^ all year … as long as they put on a big show on a holiday or too. Hate that. Be nice to me every day. Appreciate me every day, then we’ll talk. I love this idea.

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Stephanie February 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

For years, I automatically crossed out Feb 14 on my calendar because I didn’t have anyone special to celebrate it with. Then I realizes that the holiday is about love, which comes in many forms. I started celebrating the day with my single girlfriends, celebrating the love of friendship. Now that I am married and have a designated “valentine,” I’m not into all of the romantic trappings that typically accompany the holiday. And I still make sure I take time out to make sure my “original valentines” know that I love and appreciate them.

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Susan February 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Guilty of some of the things you mention, unfortunately. But I love the idea of turning Valentine’s Day into Gratitude Day!

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Tanja Pajevic February 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

What a great post! Thanks for the inspiration–
Tanja
http://rebootthismarriage.com

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Kris @ Attainable Sustainable February 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I’m with you. I’m not much for Hallmark holidays, but being grateful? Or being generous? That I can do.

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Carmaine C. February 15, 2012 at 7:54 am

I am really inspired by your nuggets of wisdom here. Yes, I think we should not only celebrate Christmas during Valentine’s Day but we should give love everyday! What’s the most generous thing you ever did in your entire life?

Thanks for sharing that video! I hope others would be hit with generosity as well.

-Carmaine

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Living Large February 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Excellent idea and great post!

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Sarah Liz February 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

@ Rose Byrd….yes, seeing others is so pivotal in life. I’m fortunate enough to have a few people who really see me and I count blessings for them everyday. When someone really sees you, it just opens your heart and allows you to better see them–as well as yourself. Marvelous point!

Many Blessings,
-Sarah Liz :)

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Jane Boursaw February 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm

What a wonderful post. So true on all counts. The day after Valentine’s Day, my husband and I were lamenting that we hadn’t had time to make each other cards. But agreed that every day is Valentine’s Day for us. Just being together and sharing our lives is everything.

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Bern February 28, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Yes, I like the idea of generosity day – much better than the commercialised day Valentines has become

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