I teach creativity workshops based on The Artist’s Way that are ostensibly about artistic pursuits but mostly about giving ourselves permission to love what we love and do what we love. A big chunk of the journey involves learning to value ourselves enough to believe that we deserve self-designed and even self-indulgent lives. About midway through the course and book, there’s a list of fill-in-the blank questions to assess where we are in this process. One of them goes: “I think I have nice ___.”
A common response among my students is, “I think I have nice friends,” but I’m often hoping to hear things like “eyes,” “hair,” “teeth” or any answer that sounds like a bit of a boast. This same chapter invites us to try on the phrase, “Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.” Not surprisingly, many people squirm out of that task, along with the weekly artist dates they are supposed to take for the sole purpose of experiencing pleasure and inspiration.
From what I’ve seen, this tendency towards self-denial is widespread in our culture. Why is it so hard for us to brag a little, give ourselves a break from endless productivity, and treat ourselves like the precious objects we truly are? I only know my own story, which includes years of doubting my self worth in a patriarchal culture, believing that selfishness was a kind of sin, aiming to please everyone, and shrinking myself down to whatever size seemed non-threatening to others. Fortunately I’ve outgrown a lot of that.
As I near the half-century mark, I’m happy to say that I love myself and treat myself pretty well ninety-something percent of the time. And that’s a good thing because, as my friend Allison points out, I have more years of life behind me than in front of me now. That’s a sobering thought. Do I want to spend any part of these remaining years depriving myself of the love, friendship and validation that I willingly extend to others? I think not.
So today I’m declaring myself my own valentine. How do I love me? Let me count the ways…hmmm…I have nice eyes, healthy curiosity, pretty feet and great taste in music. I’m a basically kind and usually thoughtful person who’s always trying to become more compassionate, patient and forgiving. I’m funny! I value authenticity, possess several useful talents and keep a cozy, colorful home. I was smart enough to marry a hardworking and devoted man who tells me I’m beautiful at least once a week. When called for, I’m also humble.
But enough about me. Can you be your own valentine today? Look at your to-do list and see if your own needs or true pleasures are anywhere on it. And how about creating a list of your positive qualities? Does that feel like an exciting assignment, a vain pursuit, or a task just slightly less painful than doing your taxes? You can try starting with, “I think I have nice friends.” Just keep going, and get personal. Next, jot down some beloved activities that you’ve lately denied yourself and put a few of them on your calendar. Do one of them today. Start with taking a deep, nourishing breath right now.
You don’t have to let anyone know what you are up to, by the way, but the funny thing about treating ourselves well is that it often leads to treating others well, so the people in your life might enjoy being along for the ride and seeing you smile more often. I’m especially talking to any female readers who typically put others’ needs first, and anyone who believes that life equals suffering. Martyrs are boring, right? Satisfied, happy people are fun–just ask Mama Gena, who’s made a whole career out of getting women to brag, strut, and live out their pleasures to the delight of everyone around them.
This Valentine’s Day I’m going to enjoy the rose petal tea and the pink lilies that my husband brought home last night, along with the dinner he’s arranging (asking for what you want and need and being a good receiver is part of being your own valentine). I’ll get some work done, read a book or take a walk, nap with my cat if I feel like it, and mute my inner critic to the best of my ability (i.e., talk nice to myself all day).
I may also have a bit of chocolate, from me to me, with love.