What makes any of us happy relies on our individual perspectives. These perspectives are grounded in our beliefs about both the world and our prospects in the world. In keeping with this year’s continuing themes of flexibility and balance in my blog, I’d like to share some thoughts on maintaining happiness in the face of disappointing circumstances. While minor disappointments are small setbacks compared to the real suffering faced by too many people, finding happiness is an important part of our collective mental health.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day, during a pandemic

Whether you’re talking about New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July, Christmas, or anything in between, holidays usually have some sort of traditional experience associated with them. There are distinct expectations wired to most holidays. These expectations may carry the promise of holiday gifts, or a certain kind of holiday meal, or a specific holiday ritual. It even seems that some holidays encourage people to put pressure on themselves to make the day “special.” Of all the “special” holidays, perhaps no holiday has such specific and intense expectations as Valentine’s Day. Grand gestures like fancy dinners or weekend getaways have typically been part of the Valentine’s Day tradition.

But in the shadow of an ongoing pandemic, old expectations based on traditional gestures of devotion are bound to fall short. After all, things like romantic outings are—at the moment—not part of our reality. Additionally, not all Valentine’s Day disappointments stem from CoVid-19.

Happiness? It’s all how you frame it

I’ve previously written about the pitfalls of all-or-nothing thinking. People attached to seeing the world in stark black-and-white terms of perfection-or-why-bother often end up sorely disappointed. I sometimes define attachment as an expectation for things to be a certain way. Inflexible expectations can put blinders on our experience. You know that expression, “every cloud has a silver lining”?  If we are attached to expecting no clouds in the first place, our potential for appreciating silver linings is extremely limited. To be attached to narrow expectations of a specific outcome—like, say, a special Valentine’s Day—makes us a sort of victim if that outcome doesn’t happen. To have looser expectations can make us feel more empowered; less a victim of circumstance.

Here’s the take-away

One aspect of happiness, it turns out, is determined by the balance of our reality versus our expectations. The more we are focused on our expectations (at the expense of reality,) the more frustrated we are likely to be if our expectations are dashed. But if we accept reality and allow it to temper our expectations, we are apt to be more content. No matter the outcome.

So this holiday, I wish you happiness and contentment… no matter what your Valentine’s Day may look like this year!