Love is a funny thing.

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and I was thinking about my resolution to “think of small treats or courtesies.” The Big Man and I usually don’t give each other Valentine’s gifts, so I thought it would be fun to pick up some little thing—especially because studies show that people get more pleasure from surprise treats than from expected treats. Maybe he’d like a book, or a silly pair of bright red boxer shorts, decorated with hearts…

Then it hit me: I know what would be a real treat for him. He’d be really happy if I got his bedside wall-mounted lamp fixed. It blew out a few weeks ago.

I thought I’d taken care of the lamp two weeks ago, but it has turned out to be one of those boomerang projects—once you think it’s off your hands, it comes right back to you.

I’d resisted calling an electrician, but then, as a treat for the Big Man and to further my happiness-project goals, finally called. The electrician’s phone was disconnected. So I had to hunt that down. Then the electrician finally came, and I thought the lamp would be fixed. But no, it needs to be taken in for repairs.

I detest this kind of errand.

Love is a funny thing. I would joyfully give the Big Man one of my kidneys, without a second’s hesitation, but I have to wrestle myself for hours to get myself to get a lamp repaired for him.

Given that the Big Man doesn’t need a kidney at the moment, I know that the lamp repair would be a treat, so after much internal foot-dragging, off I went to Gracious Home. I had a fantasy that the lamp could be fixed while I waited, but turns out I’ll need to come back in a week, then call the electrician to attach it…etc. This is really a gift of love.

I’m reminding myself of my resolution “Don’t expect praise or appreciation.” The Big Man isn’t good at giving praise. In fact, this very lamp blew out once before, and when I finally called the electrician and got it fixed, he gave me just a quick “Thanks.”

I’m so motivated by thanks and praise; I know I’d be more likely to get the lamp fixed this time if I thought I’d get a standing ovation when it was done. I beg the Big Man, “Manipulate me! Lavish me with praise, and you could have me jumping through hoops like a bear at a circus! Just give me my gold stars!”

He laughs, and he understands my nature, but he still doesn’t do it.

I shouldn’t do these things for the gold stars. As St. Therese wrote, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”

In any event, as always, my commandment to “Act as I would feel” is uncannily effective; doing a loving action has noticeably boosted my loving feelings.

Another of my resolutions is “Identify the problem.” As I write, the nature of the problem is at last dawning on me: confusion over responsibility for the lamp. Is it the Big Man’s problem, because it’s his lamp, and his inconvenience? Or is it my problem, because I’m in and out of the apartment and the neighborhood more? Maybe I see this undertaking as a favor, because I’m doing it as a treat, but the Big Man thinks of it as a task properly assigned to me, so isn’t particularly grateful. Hmmmm….

Nevertheless, I plan to wrap a box of light-bulbs in red paper, tie on a pink bow, and give it to the Big Man tomorrow, as a symbol of my promise to get that lamp repaired for him, however many times that darned boomerang comes back to me.

I just discovered a wonderful new blog, Zen Habits. Despite the name, its focus isn’t exclusively Zen, but more like…a happiness project. Each person’s project is different, each person’s project is fascinating. Great, great stuff here, particularly about setting and keeping goals.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Leo

    Hi Gretchen … thanks for the mention. I’m glad you like Zen Habits. I’m a fan (and subscriber) of yours as well!

  • Jessica

    One of the reasons I knew my boyfriend really loved me early on in the relationship is that he secretly took a boot of mine that I loved but had a broken zipper to the cobbler to get it repaired. It would have literally taken ME months to get around to it.

  • Michelle I

    My sister recently turned me on to your blog and for good reason. You and I might just be married to the same big man. In fact, we may be the same person. I want gold stars too!!! They seldom come, so I am taking your advice and will begin working to “act as I would feel.”
    I just watched “The Secret” DVD last night and doing additional work towards being more happy. I’m checking out the Zen website next. Thanks for your inspiration on this journey!

  • I’m totally motivated by external validation as well. A cute guy tells me I’m a good boy and I’ll do everything and anything to hear him say that again.
    But of course, because I’m a typically twisted human being, if the same guy were to lavish attention on me instead of carefully doling it out, I’d be uninterested in a flash.
    The validation has to come earned, not just because I’m me!
    (Yes, I know, I’m completely silly!)

  • Thibault

    this article triggers several thoughts in me :
    1) I was moved by your sentence :
    “I would joyfully give the big man one of my kidneys”
    I thought what a proof of love !,
    and then what a happy man !
    (I am a man too)
    2) then why does she want to prove more for her “big man”, there’s nothing more important than to know your companion loves you
    3) does she thinks and search too far, all the time ?
    isn’t she complicating things, with questions, rules etc. when she has the essential : “knowing that she loves him, and that her companion, loves her: it’s difficult to imagine a man loved to that point could not feel fullfilled and love in return too.
    4) after all, all the questions she asks to herself all the time, does not look important in themselves, but rather in the fact the she does not take things for granted and that she puts herself in question too.which is good I think.
    My intuition is that all that is good,
    may be it’s a question of balance, between living the time being and thinking how to go on living well the time being.
    I’m afraid human beings realise they had happiness when it’s gone, that’s why we should convince ourselves that the secret of happiness is to be satisfied with what we have…and yet…;-)

  • genie giney

    your site was really helpfull. i hope you could post something about students. thanks..