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Put a little love into your life
The special love we express on February 14 doesn’t have to be limited in time or demonstrated with extravagant gifts. Love also means taking care of ourselves, reaching out to others, and letting gratitude flow.

HERE it comes again – Valentine’s Day. Are you thinking of chocolate, flowers, candy hearts, and romantic cards? If you are, you’re among the very fortunate who have someone in their lives with whom to exchange special tokens of love and happiness.

Love is a powerful motivator. Before the first Valentine’s Day observance, in sixth century B.C., Nebuchadnezzar II is said to have built one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – to express his love for his wife who was homesick for the forests and plants of her native home.

Love on a large scale can be admirable, and certainly the church leaders of the period around 270. A.D. had a big change in mind when they declared a day in the middle of February as the time to honor Saint Valentine, even though many people were still practicing pagan rituals.

Flash forward to 2015 when greeting card manufacturers expect to sell over 150 million messages of love and devotion. Add the roses and other gifts, and love is big business.

So what about the other 364 days of the year? How can we put a little “sweetness” into our lives without the prompt of a major observance once a year? How can we spread love around so that it touches more people without hitting our budgets and giving our loved ones a toothache?

First, think about yourself. If your first reaction is “that’s selfish,” consider the advice that starts every airline flight: “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will automatically drop. Secure your own mask before assisting someone else.” Even children! It’s good common sense that you’re not much good to others if you’re not taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself means different things to different people, but the basics of getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods in healthy portions, moving your body every day, finding joy, and having a sense of purpose – a reason for living – all set the stage for loving and being loved.

Spend time with your friends. Some of your friends may also be your family, co-workers, neighbors, and other loved ones. Whatever the relationship, surround yourself with positive people who help you feel comfortable in your own skin. They’re stimulating and fun, and they can help you forget what’s troubling you. You can do the same for them.

Go outside. Use all your senses. Breathe deeply and notice the aromas – or lack of – in the air. Drink in the scenery with your eyes. Look to the horizon as well as to the small details of a flower. Feel the softness of beach sand or the coolness of a fountain’s water. Taste a leaf of grass and decide if it’s sweet or sour. Listen for the sound of birds or the breeze in the trees.

Get creative. When you do something new, you’re making new connections among the brain’s neurons. Write a poem, learn to play the piano, find your singing voice, plant a garden. Combine your interests with your imagination.

Give help and ask for help. Talk to anyone who volunteers at a school, hospital, or any other community organization, and they’ll tell you how good it feels to be a part of making someone else’s life a little better. And if you’re at a place in your life where you need help with your health, relationships, parenting, or other life challenge, don’t let yourself sink into silence. Turn to a friend and ask them to help you find the help you need and lighten your burden.

Keep a gratitude journal. End each day by writing down something you are grateful for in that moment. You may feel thankful for the unconditional love of your pet, or for the unexpected phone call from a long-time friend. Taking the time to acknowledge your feelings of gratitude can, over time, change your outlook and motivate you to express thanks for every kindness. Let the love flow.

And that brings us back to Valentine’s Day. Perhaps this is the year to think outside of the (chocolate) box and include a few extra people in your circle of love and gratitude. Have fun on Valentine’s Day, and then continue the practice by remembering to express your gratitude throughout the year to those who make your life better, easier, or more complete. The love starts with you!