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
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.