By Rachel Welch
Valentine's Day is as much about relationship reflection as it is about chocolates and flowers. Whether that memorable evening with a special someone happened, or you felt unappreciated (and instead of cuddling your partner, you cuddled your pet), there are still bits of wisdom to be gleaned from the holiday.
Merriam Webster defines self-love as “an appreciation of one’s worth or value,” and self-care as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health.” We hope you will explore how to embrace these in your day-to-day life, not just during the month of love.
From the fascinating—and debated— history of Saint Valentine to the opportunity to practice self-love activities, we invite you to take a deep dive and learn a little history, and also how to honor and restore your forever valentine – you.
Valentine’s Day Origins
The history of this holiday is somewhat of a mystery, with different sources that claim different beginnings. One thing that seems to be consistent, is that its name stems from Saint Valentine. With both Christian and ancient roman traditions tied to the holiday, there is a theory within both religious groups.
The Catholic Church formally recognizes three different saints with the name of Valentine or Valentinus, who are regarded as martyrs. Another theory in Catholicism suggests that Valentine was a rebel against a law from Emperor Claudius. This law stated that single/unmarried men made better soldiers, and that marriage for young men should be outlawed. Apparently, this story’s Valentine character shirked this rule, and performed marriages in secret, ultimately sealing his punishment. One other theorized character by the name of Saint Valentine is also rumored to have been put to death by Claudius. Either way, it seems that this Claudius fellow was very anti-Valentine.
According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl—possibly his jailor’s daughter—who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. (2)
Going even further back is the Pagan belief, which is based on the Lupercalia festival. The name comes from a group of Roman priests, called the Luperci. Supposedly, the Luperci would gather at a sacred cave, in honor of an ongoing fertility festival. Their ritual involved animal sacrifice, in honor of the infant founders of Rome. Finally, they would end the evening with the women placing their names into an urn. The men would choose a name, and whoever they chose would be their partner for the next year (2). How romantic.
Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church and specifically Pope Gelasius wasn’t too keen on these practices, and soon forbade the celebration of Lupercalia. Some say that the church rebranded the holiday with the name of their esteemed martyr Saint Valentine, as a way of taking control and making it fit their religious narrative.
A more endearing and less controversial theory of Valentine’s Day is from the 14th century, when Geoffrey Chaucer published “Parliament of Fowls.” The poem centered on birds choosing their mates and seems to have inspired other lovers to send their sweethearts poems during the avian mating season (3). By the late 1700’s, this tradition was common practice, and the exchanged poems soon came to be well known as valentines.
Moving past the somewhat colorful history of Valentine’s Day’s origin, we are brought to the present day, when the holiday is marked by chocolates, cards, flowers, red, and pink. Arguably, the holiday has become much tamer and friendlier over the years, thankfully lacking religious strife and people being put to death.
While the modern holiday tends to cater to couples, Valentine’s Day has also evolved to be a celebration of love for all. Parents and children may celebrate as a family, and a group of platonic friends may host a “Galentine’s Day” party. Marketing airs on the side of romantic branding for the holiday, but, Valentine’s Day can and should be about loving everyone around you, including yourself.
Life is busy, and people are often fighting to stay afloat. They are busy giving to others at their job, pouring energy into helping their families at home, and striving to save the world. It seems that, too often, these busy people forget or don’t make the time for loving themselves.
Self-love and self-care are defined as “An appreciation of one’s worth or value,” and “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health.” When was the last time that you gave time and attention to improving your own health, or cherishing your own value? If it’s been a while, then there is no time like the present to start again. Here are some delightful and healthy ways to treat yourself, and cherish the ever valuable you. After all, your wellness and balance are at the core of all the love you put into the world.
Lovely Ways to Love Yourself
When you think of showering someone else with love, you might try to plan a special event – to get away, have time in a different place, dress up, or do something that shakes up the norm. In order to love yourself, you should take the same approach, and plan a day, or even just an evening of fun, that will fuel you.
We all have different hobbies that boost us up and reignite a joyous spark. For some people, it’s artistic expression and creativity. For others, it may be spending time in nature, and unplugging from technology. Maybe it’s video games or getting lost in a book. Whatever floats your happy swan boat, that is where you should start.
Treat Yourself to “You” Time
Plan out some solo time for yourself and make it something fun. There is a trending post in the self-care world of social media, that says, “use the fine China.” This hints at the point that many people go through their lives waiting for the perfect moment to do something, and then run out of time and realize they missed their chance. People wait for the perfect moment to use the fine China, for instance, and then look back in life and realize they barely ever used it. Maybe you’re waiting for the perfect moment to burn that fancy scented candle, or to use the gift card to your favorite store. Don’t wait. Enjoy your life!
The point is to cherish the here and now of your life, and to realize that you are living in the special occasion, this very moment.
So, plan out something fun. Go see a movie by yourself, and don’t share the popcorn, or take a walk in the woods and listen to the birds. If you’re an overachiever who feels the need to always be productive in some way, you can also reap health benefits and self-love benefits, by implementing practices that are as healthy as they are fun and relaxing.
Love Your Mind
Meditation is one of the most beneficial ways to have solo time, and to practice self-love. How better to love yourself, than to give your brain the best natural medicine there is? Meditation is scientifically proven to change the brain in positive ways. Studies have shown that regular meditation alters the sizes of areas related to compassion, memory, and self-awareness (4). Certain types of meditation also can provide benefits in different ways. For example, loving kindness meditation, or compassion-based meditation practice, can hone in on the feelings of self-love and love for others.
A loving-kindness meditation focuses on strengthening the connection to oneself and to others, and is an excellent tool for working on self-love, empathy, understanding, and kindness (5).
Some neuroimaging studies indicated that compassion meditation (CM) and loving-kindness meditation (LKM) regulate the functioning of the limbic system, a brain site that is in charge of processing emotions and empathy (6).
Another study found that Tibetan monks with extensive time spent in loving-kindness meditation had unusually secure neural circuits in the brain’s areas that regulate self understanding and empathy. This means that their consistent meditation physically changed the circuits in their brain and made those areas’ connections stronger (6).
A guided loving-kindness meditation will often involve guided phrases like the following:
May I be well.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be at peace.
Typically, you will start by focusing on you, and then move to repeating the same mantras with others in mind. Sometimes the focus will be people you know, people you dislike, or complete strangers. But in your mind, you will visualize this other person, and repeat the same, as if you are willing it into the universe:
May you be well.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be at peace.
It’s worth a try, right?
Love Your Body
Another important element of self-love is being able to love the skin that you’re in. So many of us are highly critical when it comes to what we see in the mirror, and if you are one of the many who struggle with loving yourself and how you are physically, then you should incorporate the following items into your self-love day.
Food for Feelings: Remember that to some extent, you are what you eat. Meaning, if your nutrition is off balance, the rest of your physical health is likely to follow. Prioritize nutrition by maintaining a colorful plate with each meal, and focusing on healthy amounts of protein and nutrients. Supplements are always an option to fill in nutritious gaps, and Health by Principle has an abundance of resources to help you there!
Movement for Mood: To feel your best, you really need to get moving. Even if the movement is just a short walk around the block with your dog, or through Target to get yourself a fun gift, make movement a priority in your act of loving yourself. For the ladies out there, go take a trendy hot girl walk and boost those happy hormones!
In a world that is so busy, and so plagued with constant stimulation, demands, and projects, it can take effort to simply slow down and focus on yourself, but that is what I hope you will try to do. Please take a bit of time to slow down and treat yourself like the loveable human that you are. Build in some love for your mind, your body, and every other part of you that needs some TLC. For the month of love and every month after, I encourage you to love yourself, and love every moment of it!