THE BLOG
05/12/2014 04:52 pm ET Updated Jul 12, 2014

The 'Post-Mother's Day Cycle' and How to Break It

Cultura/Moof via Getty Images

Every year for one day in May, we shower our mothers in praise. On this day, we might promise to show mothers more appreciation in the future, but a few days later everything gets back to normal. And so the Post-Mother's Day Cycle begins anew and the promise to show affection for our mothers' greatness becomes just a distant memory.

This cycle of giving mom only one day of a praise a year is problematic. Psychologists find people almost always function better and are happier when they experience praise and positivity not all at once, but consistently over time.

We must all strive not to be like that terrible joke about the husband who says, "I told my wife I loved her on our wedding day, why do I need to tell her again?" To some degree we all are unfortunately too close to this possibly well-intentioned but completely misguided man.

So, why don't we keep giving our mothers praise year round? Especially when so many of our own mothers are giving us love and praise every day? The reason may be our culture.

Largely, our culture doesn't support praising mothers on other days. Yes, Mother's Day itself provides both a cultural reminder to show love for one's mother and a safe place for doing so. Yet, on no other days of year does our culture remind us to show appreciation for our mothers. And even when we think to show appreciation, it may seem sort of awkward and for many men "unmanly" to praise one's mom on any of the other 364 days of the year.

There's also a potential dark side to Mother's Day and it is what psychologists call: licensing. Psychologists find that when people do something good in a category they sometimes feel "licensed" to do something bad (or at least not good) in the category. For instance, if we are mean to our mothers after Mother's Day, we may feel OK with it. This is because since we've recently shown our love and bought her flowers, so we feel licensed to be a little mean now. Though this thinking is more or less illogical, it is a thinking process many people go through.

Unfortunately, there's nothing built into our society that demands us or even reminds us to show love for our mothers. This is not only psychologically problematic, but also almost ironic given that many mothers raise their kids by showering them in an effective amount of verbal affirmation. Yet, we as adult children rarely return the favor.

A massive amount of psychological research shows how important it is to show affection and appreciation toward others either verbally or through other means such as spending quality time or providing social support. Many of us aren't giving back what our mothers have given to us. Some of us may do it for one day of the year, but that's obviously not enough.

So this year, break the Post-Mother's Day Cycle. Do this by putting a note on your fridge or putting a weekly reminder on your phone that reads: "Tell mom she's awesome today." Or right now pre-order flowers for you mom to receive in six months with a note that says, "Happy half-way to Mother's Day."

Mother's Day is a wonderful institution. There's no doubt. But it can be an even more effective institution if we see that Mother's Day isn't just one day and instead see it as a reminder to spend everyday in appreciation.


Troy Campbell is a psychological researcher at Duke University. This post is dedicated to his mother who inspired a lot of the "Positive Psychology" that is the undercurrent of much of his research.

If you enjoyed this blog you may also like Campbell's writing on the "Adam before Eve Problem" and whether people can choose their emotions?