Being Your Own Valentine: On Self-Satisfaction and Well-Being

me4by 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.

well-beingIn 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.

Resources

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.

This Land is Your Land

me4

by Katie ten Hagen

My friend DJ was in Washington, DC, on June 26, when the US Supreme Court finally legalized gay marriage nationwide. At midnight, he joined an elated crowd outside the White House, celebrating the victory and the powerful sight of the rainbow flag projected against the White House. That sight was soon surpassed by something even more powerful:  A man standing beside him spontaneously broke into song. He began singing “This Land Is Your Land” in a strong, unwavering voice that silenced the crowd. A minute later, a woman rode up on a bicycle and began to harmonize. Their impromptu duet riveted the crowd. And then it was over. The singers hugged and parted.

This land is your land. The marriage equality decision represents the culmination of a campaign for equality that has been remarkable and unprecedented in its speed and success. It means real change that affects countless lives for the better, and offers hope that the world is becoming a more equal and accepting place. Here at the APA offices just around the corner from Capitol Hill, we’ve been right in the thick of celebrations. This Day in June, published by our sister imprint Magination Press—a book that won the 2015 Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award for exceptional merit relating to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender experience—describes the vibrant and joyful celebration of a Pride Parade through a child’s eyes.

47365798At the same time, the world is not yet perfect. Legal does not necessarily mean accepted, and accepting those different from ourselves has been a hurdle for the human race for as long as we have existed. Just as the end of legalized racial discrimination did not eliminate racism, homophobia will remain long after gay marriage becomes the law of the land. In recognition of this, we recently published Happy Together: Thriving as a Same-Sex Couple in Your Family, Workplace, and Community, a book to help couples work together to identify, develop, and use their strengths and skills to successfully navigate relationship stress, while confronting external prejudice within families, in the workplace, and elsewhere.

Some prejudice is obvious, but sometimes it takes more subtle forms. Sometimes it is ingrained so deeply in our social interactions that it’s difficult to even notice—unless you are the one targeted. Seemingly inconsequential slights, as simple as a word, phrase, or tiny action, accumulate over time and weigh on members of targeted minority groups with feelings of victimization and exclusion. That’s So Gay! looks at the scholarly literature on microaggressions directed at LGBTQ people, and offers readers a blueprint for developing a culture of acceptance, instead of exclusion. An upcoming book from Magination Press, Ouch Moments: When Words Hurt, takes a stark and realistic look at microaggressions as they occur between children. Ouch Moments will be released in September 2015.

The world is not perfect, and it never will be. On June 26, we celebrated a momentous step forward. The work continues.