04/14/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Transforming Valentine's Day (and Letting it Transform You)

February 14th. Every year, I am amazed at what this day inspires in us. Although "inspires" may be the wrong word, because in many cases it seems to bring up frustration, dejection and unhappiness -- not very inspiring! Whether you're in a relationship or not, Valentine's Day can be a challenge:

  • I have friends in marriages and committed relationships who dread this day. One couple says that every year, their expectations and their actual experience are a complete mismatch: one of the kids gets sick, the car breaks down, dinner reservations get mixed up and there are no open reservations, etc. Then there are the relationship factors: I was hoping we would go to such-and-such place; I thought he would know this day is a big deal; I thought she would know that this day isn't a big deal -- just an over-hyped day of commerce. Mixed expectations turn into frustration, and Valentine's Day becomes a letdown.
  • If you're single, Valentine's Day can feel like a day of rejection -- there's a club that everyone but you belongs to, and the only membership requirement is a relationship (i.e. proof that one is loved). For the first two weeks of February, there is no escaping the attempts by the makers of all things delicious and sparkling and fragrant to sell what they have to offer, everywhere you turn an ad proclaiming that "Valentine's Day is not for you."
  • If this sounds bad -- consider the male office worker in Japan. February 14 is the day female workers give chocolates to male coworkers. On March 14, the men return the favor. For men, it's all about what happens on February 14 -- those receiving few or poor quality chocolates are counted unpopular and experience great embarrassment and loss of face. Men go to lengths to hide this "failure."

Considering the challenges and ensuing frustration that can be associated with this day, I suggest a shift -- three ways to redefine Valentine's Day -- What, When, and Who:

1) Redefine the "What": Valentine's Day is For Everyone
Rather than control, define! While it's true you may not get to control a thing, it's also true that you get to choose how you define a thing, and this can make all the difference. Here, take a lesson from the Finns. In Finland, rather than a day devoted to idealized romantic love, Valentine's Day is focused primarily on friendship, with everyone celebrating the bonds of friendships/relationships. As a result, the day is inclusive of everyone -- a celebration of the connectedness of humanity and the affirmation of all of our relationships. So embrace the day -- it's for you! And remember that what you plant and nurture, grows. As you open your heart and embrace friendship and love in an inclusive way (rather than resign yourself to Valentine's Day belonging to other people -- those with better romantic partnerships or those with romantic partnerships, period), you strengthen and grow those things in your life.

2) Redefine the "When": Every Day is Valentine's Day Once we've broadened our definition of Valentine's Day to include all levels of friendship and love, then we get to choose when to embrace those relationships. And while Valentine's Day is a good reminder, once a year isn't enough. The affirmation of loving relationships is important in so many ways: for starters, it can literally improve our physical health! So don't pour all of this into one day. The more often we affirm and celebrate these relationships, the better:
  • Reach Out: Reach out to friends and loved ones on a regular basis: a call a week, a note a week, a get-together each week. Plan to do these things, or in the course of the busy-ness of life, they likely won't happen.
  • Express Appreciation: Get in the habit of finding opportunities to express your appreciation -- verbally or in writing.
  • Give Unexpected Gifts: Give small gifts when they're not expected. This doesn't have to be expensive. Know what people like, and customize the gift to them (tear out an article they'd enjoy, offer to do an errand or a chore "just because," pick up an extra carton of strawberries at the store, because you know they love them.)
3) Redefine the "Who": Be Your Own Valentine It's hard to love others with freedom if we don't love ourselves. "Of course I love myself," you say. Okay, I challenge you to look closely. Do you actively love yourself? Here are five ways to think about your answer. They also double as tips, in case you're dissatisfied with what you find!
  • Forgive Yourself -- for not being as disciplined as you wanted to be yesterday, for not holding your temper better in that conversation, for not finishing that project when you planned. Forgiving yourself is not about excuses and continuing behavior that doesn't serve. It's about letting go so you can move forward productively rather than dragging yourself down (and holding yourself back) with guilt.
  • Take Care of Yourself -- and only you know what that means: getting more sleep, speaking up for yourself more, removing yourself from a "toxic" friendship, doing something you enjoy (a meal with a friend, a walk by yourself, a game of tennis, a book you read for fun), taking a break.
  • Listen to Yourself -- in two ways: 1) What is the thing you know deep down that you're not letting yourself know, consciously: Something that will help you understand a situation better? Something that will help you take action you need to take? 2) What is a goal or dream you know is inside that you haven't given voice to?
  • Invest in Yourself -- what is the thing you need, in order to not just exist, but to grow and thrive: Exercise more? Eat better? Take a class? Read a book?
  • Like Yourself -- this may sound obvious. It's not. We all have our wins and losses. Most of us focus on our losses and, as a result, get down on ourselves. Rather, focus on your wins. And focus on the important things you're learning from your losses, and the ways you're growing, as a result. As you like yourself more, and love yourself more, you become more likable and lovable to others. And this only creates more of Valentine's Day every day for a good way.

Valentine's Day is for everyone, it's for every day, and it just may start with YOU. Use the tips and actions listed here, or use them as a starting point to develop some of your own. The point is this: connection and love are powerful, and they belong to you. Embrace this day and, rather than running from it, invite more of it into your life. Be active about your love for yourself and your love for others -- and not just on one day, but every day.

Transform your approach to Valentine's Day.

And watch what happens. It just may transform you.