It’s February—time to start stressing out about our love lives. In all seriousness, dating and romance are great (when they’re going well), but Valentine’s Day can sometimes bring a little stress with it. When I’m single on Valentine’s Day, I stress about why I’m not dating. When I’m in a relationship, I fret about buying gifts and planning dates. Meanwhile, the greeting card and chocolate moguls laugh at me as they swim in heart-shaped pools filled with money.
Good news: If your dating life is giving you a headache, there’s another aspect of your relationships that you can focus on, one that will make you feel great: gratitude.
How to strengthen your gratitude muscle
Gratitude isn’t just some quasi-spiritual cliché. Research suggests that gratitude has a huge impact on well-being and mental health. Studies show that grateful people are happier, less stressed, and less prone to anxiety or depression. They cope more effectively with problems, they sleep better, and—special Valentine’s Day fact!—they are more satisfied with their relationships.
Gratitude is a quality you can develop, like exercising a muscle. Here are two methods for doing so, courtesy of the great positive psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
I can’t recommend this practice enough. It’s quick and easy, yet Dr. Seligman has found (and, from experience, I agree) that it brings long-lasting benefits. Here’s the practice:
At the end of each day, write down:
- Three things that went well that day, and
- Why those things happened.
I find this especially satisfying when I choose things that involve my relationships with others. So if one of your three things is “Cooked a great meal with my sister,” your “reason why” might be “We’ve been making an effort lately to spend more time together” or “She’s an amazing cook.” This practice trains us to spot and savor the positive things in our lives.
2. Make a gratitude visit
Here’s what you do:
- Think of someone who has shown you incredible kindness—someone whom you never fully thanked and who lives near enough for you to visit.
- Write the person a short letter expressing heartfelt gratitude. Say what this person did for you, how it affected your life, and how that makes you feel. Don’t mail it yet.
- Get in touch with the person, and say you’d like to visit.
- Meet the person, and read the letter aloud.
- PROBABLY CRY AND HUG.