Opening our hearts

Valentine's Day can be a day for thinking about love and opening our hearts in general, not just the romantic exchange of cards and flowers that has become tradition on 14 February.  

Who was St Valentine anyway?  He lived in Rome in the third century AD and was arrested and imprisoned for carrying out marriages in secret.  The Emperor Claudius had banned engagements and marriages because he was having difficulty getting men to join the army for his bloody campaigns.

Legend has it that Valentine became a friend of the gaoler's daughter and sent her a farewell note before his execution on 14 February around 270 AD, signed 'from your Valentine'.  After his death he was named a saint.  Since the Middle Ages the 14 February was associated with the tradition of courtly love, and gradually it became a day for exchanging love notes, flowers, small gifts and cards.

So even if your day did not begin with the opening of a card and gift, there's no reason not to celebrate love.  We can be generous to ourselves.  The relationship we have with ourselves is after all the starting-point for the relationship we have with others.  When we're loving towards ourselves, in touch with what we really need, without looking to someone else to provide it, we find ourselves naturally more open-hearted.

Maintaining an open heart is the key to warm, nurturing relationships with others, whether it's our nearest and dearest, our children, our parents, friends, colleagues, neighbours, or even strangers.  We can be warm and kind to all who we meet or speak with during the day, listening closely to what they say, instead of interrupting as most of us usually do, and appreciating their unique qualities and talents.  And we can do this on any day, not just on 14 February, making kindness a habit.

Kindness is an expression of love.  Dr Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, has spent many years researching positive emotions, which she advocates cultivating by using loving kindness meditation so that we can experience 'micro-moments' of positive resonance and connection with everyone we encounter.  Her research demonstrates that when we're kind to others we're all healthier, happier, and inclined to live longer.

To read more about loving ourselves and loving others see The Woman's Book of Joy.  To order, see details under 'Books' on this website.