Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Four ways to boost gratitude on Valentine's Day

By Amie Gordon

chocolate flowers

Whether February 14th is your first Valentine's Day together or your 35th, it's a great excuse to show gratitude for the one you love.

Today's post is the second in a two-part series on Gratitude. Yesterday I discussed research I've done on how gratitude helps us hold onto our relationships. Today I give you a few science-based tips for how to boost gratitude on Valentine's Day, and get the most out of your acts of kindness:

heart candies 1 Focus on Your Partner. It is easy to think about all the ways we hope that our partners will treat us well on Valentine’s Day. But to make the most of the day, focus on your partner and think of February 14th as a day to show your partner how much you care. Giving to others makes us happier than spending time and money on ourselves (Dunn, Aknin,& Norton, 2008). Giving as a way to express gratitude to your partner is likely to help your partner see how great you are and want to do something nice to express gratitude in return (Gordon et al., 2012). By focusing on giving and being grateful instead of on getting, you may find that both of you get more in the end.

2 Give Them What They Want. There is a disconnect between what we want as gift givers and what we want as recipients (Flynn & Adams, 2009). When we set out to by a gift or do something nice for someone else, we tend to think that the more money and time we spend, the better our gift will be. But then when we think about what we want to receive as a gift, we are most happy getting what we want, regardless of the price. Trying to surprise your partner with something she didn’t even know she wanted might feel more special to you, but to maximize gratitude, it is best to give a gift on Valentine’s Day that reflects your partner’s wishes. If you know that your partner loves the simple things like chocolates and flowers, give your partner chocolates and flowers, even if you think it is silly and you should buy them something expensive instead. The more your acts of kindness reflect your partner’s wishes and desires (even if they come off an amazon wish list), the more thoughtful they will be perceived to be, and thoughtful acts promote the most gratitude.

chocolate flowers

3 Do Something Unexpected. Expectations are the bane of gratitude. When people expect an act of kindness, such as on Valentine’s Day, they are less grateful for it (Bar-Tal, Bar-Zohan, Greenberg, & Hermon 1977). To maximize gratitude on a day filled with high expectations, try doing something unexpected. If you never cook – make your partner breakfast (if you know that is something he likes). If you don’t like to go out, plan a weekend away. Or surprising your partner with a sweet gift or act of kindness on another day when expectations are low.  But beware – when people expect an act of kindness and don’t receive it, they tend to feel resentful. So if you know Valentine’s Day is important for your partner, it is best not to neglect it completely!

Say thanks for more than the socks

4 Say "Thanks" the Right Way. Expressing gratitude when your partner does something nice can go a long way towards boosting your relationship, but to really capitalize on the gratitude, it is best to express your thanks in a way that let’s your partner know you are as grateful for them as you are for their gift. Sure you love those striped socks your partner got you, but rather than just gushing over how excited you are to try them on, try adding in a few comments about how much you appreciate that your partner knows you well enough to pick out a great gift for you, and how they always seem to be so good at getting you exactly what you want. The bottom line: focusing on your partner and not just their act of kindness can help you remember how great they are and help them feel truly appreciated.

The Research:

  • Dunn, E., Aknin, L., & Norton, M. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness Science, 319 (5870), 1687-1688 DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952
  • Flynn, F., & Adams, G. (2009). Money can’t buy love: Asymmetric beliefs about gift price and feelings of appreciation Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (2), 404-409 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.11.003
  • Bar-Tal, D., Bar-Zohar, Y., Greenberg, M., & Hermon, M. (1977). Reciprocity Behavior in the Relationship Between Donor and Recipient and Between Harm-Doer and Victim Sociometry, 40 (3) DOI: 10.2307/3033537