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Thursday, February 14, 2013


Whether February 14th is your first Valentine’s Day together or your 35th, it is a great excuse to show gratitude for the one you love. This Valentine’s Day, try these science-based tips to make sure you get the most out of your acts of kindness.

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.

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!

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.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Amie M. Gordon, M.A. is a doctoral candidate in Social-Personality Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research mainly focuses on the role of prosocial emotions (e.g., gratitude) and cognitions (e.g., perspective taking) in close relationships. She also conducts research on the impact of sleep on relationship quality. She uses a variety of methodologies in her research, including experimental, observational, daily experience, and dyadic. She received her M.A. from UC Berkeley and her B.A. from UCLA.

Amie’s research has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. She is co-founder and regular contributor for the blog Psych Your Mind: Applying Psychology to Everyday Life.

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