Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m going to keep it short and sweet today, thanks in no small part to the fact that I’ve done an unusually large amount of writing (and this week, and I’m a bit burnt out. I’m telling myself that you won’t mind, either, because you’ve read my article that was published five hours ago and don’t need to hear that much more from me, or you’re spending today having lovely in-person interactions that make you want to focus on something besides your phone or computer screen. 

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about a date or even any kind of loving interaction with someone you’re already very connected to. Thanks to Valentine’s Day, it’s likely that people around you or even you yourself are feeling a bit lonely, wondering if there’s something you’re not doing right when it comes to relationships, or that you’re generally not in the best mood. 

I don’t consider myself an optimist, but I think the undertone of sadness that tends to run through days of celebration can provide a great opportunity to connect with others. Even better, it can help us remember our own capacity for love. We all want to feel loved or be reminded that we are not alone, regardless of our relationship status at any time. So today, I encourage you to combat any sadness that you or people around you may be feeling by practising a little bit of loving kindness.  

Does it look like someone in your office is having a particularly hard day? Depending on how friendly you already are, you can give them a chance to share, or just let them know with a gentle word that you notice their distress and you’re on their side. Do you overhear someone crying in the bathroom stall next to you? Perhaps you can slip a note under the door with encouraging words on it, reminding them that they are precious and they won’t be unhappy forever, no matter how bad things may seem now. Are you standing next to a stranger at the bus stop? If you feel up to it and they seem interested, strike up a conversation by paying them a meaningful compliment that affirms something you’ve noticed about them. 

I realise that we all live in different contexts, and there are varying degrees of risk involved in trying to interact with strangers. If it’s unsafe for you to start an uplifting conversation with someone you don’t know, perhaps you can try doing so with someone you see regularly but don’t meaningfully interact with. Do you have a concierge in your building? Be a bit more intentional and interested when you ask about their day. Inject a bit more warmth into that brief interaction by making eye contact and smiling genuinely. 

If all kinds of social interaction with unfamiliar people make you uncomfortable, you can even practise this type of generosity of spirit without actually engaging with anyone. As you drive, cycle or walk throughout your day, try to infuse your internal dialogue about other people with more compassion. Someone cuts you off in traffic? Allow the possibility that they’re distracted or in a hurry, and wish them well for whatever they’re going through. Someone bumps into you without a word? Consider that they might never have learned the incredible value of apologising, and hope that they get a chance to rectify that. A happy stranger cycles past you in the distance? Send kind thoughts their way for the sustenance of whatever is bringing them joy. 

Here’s my favourite thing about this sort of kindness as we move through the mundanity of everyday life. Even a small dose of it can significantly improve how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. It’s almost like flipping a switch: seeking out opportunities to act or think generously redirects our energy in positive ways and inspires similar responses in other people. Choosing this sort of loving outlook for a few minutes can make you feel bright and smiley for hours. Imagine the effect if it became a daily practice!

So, dear friends, as Valentine’s Day is celebrated today and we’re all reminded of the centrality of love to our lives, I hope we can also be reminded that love is always within our reach. A simple first step towards it is to find meaningful ways to practise kindness. 

Till next week,

Greyscale cartoon image of OluTimehin Adegbeye, Othering correspondent, on an orange background with a white envelope in the foreground.
Greyscale cartoon image of OluTimehin Adegbeye, Othering correspondent, on an orange background with a white envelope in the foreground.
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