As we prepare for the celebration of Valentine’s Day, here are some interesting statistics that capture just how much this day means to Americans.

• 17.3 billion (that’s right, billion) dollars will be spent in celebration of Valentine’s Day.
• 224 million roses will be given.
• 1.9 billion dollars will be spent on flowers.
• 1.6 billion dollars will be spent on chocolate.
• 4.4 billion dollars will be spend on gold, diamonds, and jewelry.
• 151 million Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged.

As a culture, we clearly value expressing our love for each other this time of year. This includes the expression of all kinds of love, not just romantic love. Valentine’s Day is also an opportunity to tell friends, relatives, colleagues, and class mates (Remember exchanging cards with everyone in your classroom when you were a child?) how much they mean to us.

While it would be possible to look at the amount of money that is spent on Valentine’s Day and conclude that this holiday has become overly commercialized, I choose, instead, to see the numbers above as a reflection of how powerful the need is within each of us to both give and receive love and appreciation. Two of the most fundamental needs we all have in life are to love and to be loved.

In our Living Compass class on healthy relationships we talk about the concept of “emotional bank accounts.” In order to build and maintain healthy relationships we need to make regular “deposits” in the emotional bank accounts of those with whom we are in relationship. When we celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving a friend or loved one a card, some flowers, or chocolate, we are clearly making a deposit in their emotional bank account. We are making them happy and we are strengthening the relationship.

There will undoubtedly be times when we make “withdrawals” from another’s emotional bank account as well. Withdrawals can come when we are irritable or overly critical, when we forget to acknowledge an important event or day (like Valentine’s Day!), or even when we are distracted or simply not paying attention to a relationship. Withdrawals are a natural part of life, but something we want to be aware of because too many of them can significantly hurt a relationship.

Research has shown that healthy relationships have a ratio of deposits to withdrawals of at least 5:1. This means that in healthy and happy relationships there are at least 5 times as many expressions of kindness, gratitude, and appreciation as there are expressions of criticism or lack of attention.

Now here’s some really good news. While it true that Americans will spend over 17 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day, some of the most powerful deposits we can make in each other’s emotional bank accounts do not cost a cent. Giving a compliment, saying a kind word, expressing gratitude, making a phone call, sending a text message or a hand written note can make a big difference in a relationship. Just letting someone know that we care about them will not cost us anything at all, and yet will do a lot to build up that person’s emotional bank account and at the same time strengthen our relationship with that person.

To paraphrase a MasterCard commercial that has been popular recently:  What is the cost of Valentine’s Day related expenses for Americans? $17.3 billion. What is the cost of regular, ongoing expressions of kindness, gratitude, and appreciation? That, my friends, is priceless.

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