Like most big holidays, Valentine's day can bring up feelings of love and connectedness for some and feel especially sad and lonely for others. Most of us have experienced both at some point in our life. Now that I'm married and my husband and I have established our annual ritual, Valentine's Day is a day that we celebrate over dinner together. We splurge and treat ourselves to a nice restaurant and get dressed up even if the attire is much more casual these days (even at the nicest of restaurants). I try to make sure we have a good conversation over dinner that doesn't trigger bad memories, but sometimes it happens despite our best efforts. Still, it's a time when I can connect with my husband and remember to tell him how much I love and appreciate him.
I remember when I wasn't dating anyone leading up to Valentine's Day. I would feel lonely and sometimes downright depressed. Sometimes I'd cry with loneliness and spend that "special" day by myself. What did help me was when those days were spent with a pet. Some years it was with my beloved chinchilla. I named him "Rip van Winkle" because he always looked so sleepy when I'd want to interact with him (they're nocturnal, or night-loving animals). Other years it was with my cat (I didn't have my cat Bing back then, but I don't have a great photo of me with my special cat when I was younger). Those days when I had no special someone and no pet, I felt especially lonely.
Now that I'm older and can look back at those days, I think of how I could have taken more charge of filling my loneliness by actively getting together with others who I knew cared about me and who might be feeling the same way. Over the years, I have also found that it helps to do things that spread love and kindness to others; some call this a "random act of kindness." Though we are all connected at our core, many people are feeling increasingly lonely as the world becomes faster and more complicated. Doing kind, loving things for others opens us up to receiving love in return. After all, kindness leads to connection and connectedness is an antidote to loneliness.
Random acts of kindness look different for each one of us. It can involve other people, animals, or both. Do whatever feels right for you.
Here's a list of suggestions that might work for you as a random act of kindness for just about anyone:
Pay for someone’s coffee (or tea) behind you.
Bake (or bring) cookies or other treat for a friend or neighbor.
Write and mail a handwritten letter to a friend letting them know how much your friendship means to you.
Give someone a genuine and heartfelt compliment.
For those who love animals, you might find great pleasure in doing things that connects you to both people and animals. Here are a few suggestions that may brighten your day:
If you see someone walking their dog (even a stranger), ask if you can pet their dog(s) - it’s important to ask because not all dogs (or people) enjoy interacting with strangers. Talking about their dog can help strike up an interesting conversation and you might even gain a friend.
Ask someone you know about their pet. Hearing and sharing stories about pets can bring so much joy.
If you have a friend or family member with a dog, ask if you can join them on a walk with their dog. It's a great way to connect and get a little exercise and outdoor time.
Consider fostering a dog or cat through your local animal shelter. It might take a little time to get signed up, but then you can foster as much or as little as you want. It’s a nice way to do something good for an animal and get companionship. To keep your costs low, ask the shelter if they'll help pay for food and veterinary bills while the animal is in your care.
Whatever it is you do, remember, it's the simple things that remind us we are all connected to one another. If you're still feeling sad and lonely after trying the above suggestions (or other ideas you have), maybe you need to consider talking to your doctor, mental health provider, or spiritual provider about your feelings of sadness or loneliness and what might be causing it. There's no need to continue feeling sad and lonely when there are so many caring people in the world.
Warm One Health love to all,
PS: This was written with the help of our volunteer Athena Cardiasmenos (thank you!), who is trained as a social worker with a focus on animal assisted therapy. She gained practical experience with people at animal shelters in the state of Colorado.
PPS: Share the love… Tell us your favorite story about connecting with someone (or with an animal) in the comments section below.