by Katie ten Hagen
This time of year tends to be a time of conflicting messages. Just last week, the Washington Post ran an article about how loneliness is a health hazard that puts people at “greater risk for heart attacks, metastatic cancer, Alzheimer’s and other ills” (Nutt, 2016). A great lead-in to Valentine’s Day, that. But also this year, several surveys have shown that most single people are not dreading Valentine’s Day—in fact, some are even looking forward to it. One survey, conducted by OpenTable (a restaurant reservation service), found that 42% of singles are not only not dreading Valentine’s Day but plan to dine out, either on their own or with platonic friends or family, on the big day.
To me, the idea that this news is so surprising that it merited a study is almost more depressing than the thought of spending Valentine’s Day alone. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Our culture, for better or worse, stresses social relationships to an extreme. For those not celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic partner, society has coined terms like Galentine’s Day, to celebrate platonic love between friends, and to emphasize that we are not, in fact, alone.
Humans are, by and large, social creatures. But being alone does not have to mean being lonely, as the singles from these studies seem to know and the Washington Post makes sure to point out. They focus instead on the idea of self-satisfaction, and creating well-being within oneself.
It’s no secret that if we can feel fulfilled on our own, without needing the approval of others, we will almost certainly be more at peace with ourselves and our lives. What’s a little more mysterious is how to get there. A currently popular approach to this is mindfulness.
In her book Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Healthier, Happier Life (2013), Dr. Pamela Hays identifies the components of well-being as “positive emotions, mental and physical health, healthy relationships, and a sense of purpose,” and the “well-being path as one that involves healthy, helpful ways of thinking and behaving” (p. 77). Of course, that’s easier said than done; we are all prone to “thinking traps,” and Valentine’s Day can be an especial trigger for these. “I’ll never find someone,” “No one will ever love me,” “I should be skinnier/healthier/better-looking,” etc. Mindfulness would call this your “inner critic,” and of course it gets in the way of all of those components to well-being, because it’s not a healthy, helpful way of thinking.
There is of course more to creating well-being than simply recognizing your thinking traps. And mindfulness does not necessitate being alone—you can be mindful in and about a relationship, as well. But it is about being attuned to yourself and your emotions, and accepting them without judgment. It’s about communication, with a partner or with yourself and your own emotions. It attempts to allow us to make peace with our feelings rather than let them overwhelm us. It can be about noticing and taking joy from the small things; it is stopping to smell the roses. It is about creating well-being and satisfaction within yourself, despite whatever outside circumstances you can’t control—like whether you have a date for Valentine’s Day.
Perhaps a greater sense of personal well-being is part of why single people are not dreading Valentine’s Day this year. Or perhaps they’re just sick of pink hearts and commercialization.
Nutt, A. E. (2016). Loneliness grows from individual ache to public health hazard. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/loneliness-grows-from-individual-ache-to-public-health-hazard/2016/01/31/cf246c56-ba20-11e5-99f3-184bc379b12d_story.html
OpenTable. (2016). OpenTable Survey Finds Singles Aren’t Dreading Valentine’s Day [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/opentable-survey-finds-singles-arent-dreading-valentines-day-300216160.html
Hays, P. (2013). Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.