February 13th, 2014
05:32 PM ET
Opinion by Janet Nima Taylor, special to CNN
(CNN) - Valentine’s Day can conjure up the whole spectrum of human emotion, from the ecstasy of new love to the intense pain of loneliness.
It seems the day reeks of the expectation that we need a perfect relationship in order to be happy. But what do we really want?
Some of you might know that the Buddha left his wife and young child to pursue enlightenment, so maybe he’s not the best person to give advice about your love life. On the other hand, his teachings on love, relationships and suffering have a lot to say about our harried modern lives.
The Buddha’s first teaching, known as the Four Noble Truths, was about the connection between expectations and suffering.
He taught that life includes suffering because we seek happiness in inherently dissatisfying ways. If things are going great, we think they'll never change. (They always do.) If things are going poorly, we think it's because the world has failed us.
In short, we often expect others to make us happy. When they don’t live up to our expectations, we suffer.
While loving another person and being loved are some of life’s greatest joys, it can be painful when you think your happiness is another person’s responsibility. Valentine’s Day feeds suffering when it becomes about expecting anyone else, whether it's your spouse or an attractive stranger on a train, to satisfy your desires.
Instead, Buddhists learn to cultivate positive mental states, regardless of their external circumstances, and February 14 can be the perfect day to practice cultivating happiness and love, regardless of whether your boyfriend just proposed to you or dumped you, or even if you haven’t had a relationship since the Ice Age.
It’s all about letting go of longing and taking charge of our own happiness. Right now, in this moment, imagine what it feels like to experience love and happiness and joy.
You have the power of your imagination to create the experience without anything changing in the external world. When we set our intention to be happy, we no longer require the world to meet any preconceived notion about what we need to be happy.
Quit waiting for the perfect mate or piece of jewelry, and take charge of your own positive experience. An added bonus: When we become happier and more inspired, we attract more happiness all around us.
One last thought: Try radiating love toward everyone (or at least send out some loving kindness), regardless of whether they make you happy.
At the very least it makes you feel better, and it might even get you a date for next Valentine’s Day.
Janet Nima Taylor is an American Buddhist nun based in Kansas City and the author "Buddhism for Non-Buddhists," and "Meditation for Non-Meditators." The views expressed in this column belong to Taylor.
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