Home All Top Valentine’s Day Date Ideas from Positive Psychology

Top Valentine’s Day Date Ideas from Positive Psychology

written by Emiliya Zhivotovskaya 13 February 2009

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, MAPP '07, is the founder of Flourish, an organization dedicated to using research based tools to enable individuals and organizations to flourish. Emiliya fuses the best of Eastern philosophy with Western science to provide people with holistic tools to increase their happiness, well-being, and sense of flourishing. Full bio.

Emiliya's articles are here.

Couple Valentines DayWant ideas for what to do with your sweetie on Valentine’s Day?

“Loving, selective, enduring attachment… scientists find such love difficult to talk about,” says Dr. George Vaillant, renown psychiatrist and author.  Love as noun is hard to measure. Love as a verb or an action is more tangible. Consider taking a Valentine’s Day date where your loving activity capitalizes on research from positive psychology.

Here are four suggestions for sharing with your partner, friend, or family member:

1)      Strengths Date

The Values-In-Actions Strengths Questionnaire (VIA) is a classification of the positive side of the human experience: the VIA describes what is right with you. Research shows that people who discovered their strengths and used their strengths in a new way every day for a week increased their happiness and decreased depressive symptoms (see graphs below, Seligman et al. 2005) up to six months later. Dr. Karen Reivich, co-author of The Resilience Factor and co-creator of the Penn Resiliency Program, suggests taking a strengths date to facilitate capitalizing on your strengths in a way that can bring people closer together.

Strengths Data HappinessUsing Strengths Happiness DataHave your partner, friend, or family member take the VIA Signature Strength Survey. Take as many of your top strengths as you see fit, and sculpt an activity together that taps into the individual strengths for both you and your sweetie or friend.

For example, my Valentine and I both shared Curiosity and Interest in the World as our first strength and Forgiveness and Mercy as our fourth. Additionally, he had Judgment, Critical Thinking & Open-Mindedness, Love and the Capacity to Be Loved and Love of Learning. I had Gratitude, Hope, Optimism and Future-Mindedness, and Perspective/Wisdom.

Together we researched quotes about Love and Forgiveness from the wise, the famous, the infamous, and the every day person. Then we imagined that we were going to present at a debate on the topics of Love and Forgiveness. We used the quotes to analyze what others said about what love is. How does forgiveness work? How do these two concepts interplay? What are its outer limits?

With this newly created knowledge, we discussed ways to incorporate it into our future. We ended it by expressing gratitude to one another for specific insights that were raised during the conversation.

Whatever your combined strengths might be, there are creative ways of crafting an activity around them. Consult Dr. Tayyab Rashid’s online resource title “340 Ways to Use Via Character Strengths”.

2)      Savor a Meal… Blindfolded

Grateful mealResearch shows that savoring increases the experience of positive emotions, gratitude, mindfulness, pleasure and engagement (See the book Savoring by Bryant and Veroff).  It is easy to take basic things for granted such as foods, sensations and sounds. This activity is one of my personal favorites.

Depending on how daring you are, you can blindfold your partner on the way to a restaurant. Lovingly guiding them through the city and later the restaurant will enable them to engage their sense of smell, touch, and hearing. Try to prevent your partner from finding out what they are going to eat. Rather than reading the order to your waiter, point to the menu. As your courses come out, allow your partner to first smell the food and guess what it might be. Then feed small morsels to them so they can savor all the flavors.

Savoring wineOr you can also prepare a meal at home.  You can both engage in what Bryant calls anticipatory savoring and present moment savoring, as well as reminiscing savoring which happens after the fact.

My partner and I did this once. To this day, one of his fondest moments was guiding me around New York City blindfolded. According to him, the expressions on people’s faces, while watching us have so much pure, radiant fun, seemed to light others up. We met people on the street, played guessing games, and spread our joy to our waiters, taxi drivers, and passersby.

3)      Partner Yoga

Yoga has numerous health benefits, from improving cardiac health to reducing both depression (Pilkington et al., 2005) and premature ejaculation.

Partner Yoga NavasanaResearch by Carson et al. (2004) found that relatively happily, nondistressed couples who followed a mindfulness-based relationship enhancement program reported benefits such as increased amounts of relationship satisfaction, relatedness, and optimism.

Partner yoga is a great way to accomplish this. It involves moving your body together, coordinating your breathing, using eye contact and communication, all in a nurturing, loving manner. You both get to stretch, strengthen, and play. Whether you are a trained yogi or can barely touch your toes, there are partner poses and exercises you can do together.

As a yoga instructor, I generally find time to practice yoga and partner yoga because I feel the benefits that researchers write about.  I can vouch for those benefits.  And Valentine’s Day is a wonderful day to find such programs near you. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Partner Poses with Emiliya for a video tutorial).

4)      Gratitude Letter

Gratitude Data 1Gratitude Data 2In a study by Seligman et al. (2005), participants completed a gratitude visit which involved writing a letter expressing gratitude to someone that has positively impacted their lives and reading the letter in person. Participants reported increased happiness and decreased depression (see charts on left). A recent dissertation by Gurel Kirgiz Ozge (2008) found similar benefits in writing a gratitude letter. According to numerous articles in The Psychology of Gratitude (2004), people who express gratitude report greater life satisfaction, optimism, physical health, energy, and connection with others.

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman suggests laminating your gratitude letter so the recipient can keep the memento. “Take your time composing this [letter]… read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression and eye contact” (Seligman, 2002, p. 74). Seligman also recommends reflecting and reminiscing afterward on how the person has affected your life.

Gratitude is one of the most important concepts to me personally, and so, building on solid research to enact true good for yourself – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spitritually – I highly recommend regular expressions of gratitude.  And Valentine’s Day is a natural time to express such emotions to each other.

Heart from handsValentine’s Day can be a time to honor the people you love. You can always bring positive psychology tools and techniques to this holiday. Capture the experience through photos, journaling, scrapbooking, or just being present and in the moment. Discuss ways of creating these connections with your partner on non-holidays as well.

Love is a journey, not a destination.



Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ozge, G.K. (2008). Effects of gratitude on subjective well-being, self-construal, and memory. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 68(7-B), 4825.

Emmons, R. & McCullough, M. Eds. (2004). The Psychology of Gratitude (Series in Affective Science). Oxford University Press.

Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., & Richardson, J. (2005). Yoga for depression: The research evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 89,13-24.

Reivich, K, & Shatt?, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.

Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Vaillant, G. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith. New York: Broadway Press.

Images: Owned by Emiliya Zhivotovskaya unless otherwise indicated, such as the charts from research papers.

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Vipul Toprani 13 February 2009 - 11:27 pm

Wonderful article, especially about the gratitude letter part, have tried it and its a major stress reliever. keep up the good work. 🙂

Margaret 14 February 2009 - 9:29 am

Emilya – what a wonderful way to start my Valentine’s Day! Your suggestions are both practical and meaningful. In addition to my own special Valentine (my husband of almost 25 years), I love to send Valentines (a form of gratitude letter) to my daughters, nieces, and girlfriends who are not in a relationship. Not only has this become a tradition for them over the years, but the very act of sitting down and writing these notes produces all kinds of warm, positive emotions. On the business front, a few years back I was facilitating a planning meeting with a team of IT professionals and it happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. I brought all kinds of art supplies and large white envelopes and asked them to each design an envelope for themselves & hang it on the wall (remember doing this in grade school?). I had to overcome some powerful Gremlins who said “they’ll think this is hokey”. Over the course of the day, I asked people to write little notes about what they value in each teammate or how this person helped them in some way. There was a bit of grousing in the beginning, but over the course of the day these IT guys really got into it. Who would of thought? What I’m taking away from your article is to continue to stretch the envelope in our relationships — and I’d suggest that we can do the same in the workplace, too. Sending you XOXOXOX

anthony 14 February 2009 - 12:14 pm

this article is a well written, enjoyable and informative read. the article indicates to me, ms. zhivotovskaya knows more than a thing or two about how to enjoy life with love and happiness. 😀

Senia 14 February 2009 - 1:59 pm

I am glad you mentioned the VIA store! I was really excited when I first saw their offerings in the past month – simple, elegant, lovely.

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya 14 February 2009 - 3:09 pm

Thanks everyone. More and more I find myself focusing on how to deepen relationships. Deepening the connection by stretching yourself and growing often. Perhaps the topic of another PPND article :-).

Marie M 23 February 2009 - 2:06 pm

Wow, these are some unique ideas. I recently found some less unusual, but still great date ideas on http://www.findtruelove.com. My husband and I pick one out every two weeks and we’ve enjoyed each one so much!


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