Ah, Valentine’s Day. Are you 1) that person who pulls out all the stops for a special person, only to be disappointed when they get you, maybe, a card? 2) That person who got the card or, maybe, nothing, who stands there with a valentine-red face because that other person pulled out all the stops? 3) Blissfully or weepily alone? Wherever you end up, you can use something on this list of 14 Ways to Love Yourself. Any month of the year, my friends.

#1. Rewrite Your Greatest Hits Reel.

This one is so important, I put it on top. If you only read one, please read this.

We all have a greatest hits reel. It’s comprised of that handful of incidents that continue to make you cringe when you recall them. The stupid thing you said, or did, reanimates in your brain so vividly that you find yourself shaking your head at your own extraordinary cloddishness. In true narcissistic self-loathing, you imagine that these moments are what define you to the people you have come in contact with, usually the ones you don’t know that well who, for some reason, you are still worried about years after they’ve forgotten you.

So stop that. You know how they say your life flashes in front of your eyes in those moments preceding your death? People always imagine that to be a highlight anthology of their real greatest hits: being exquisitely happy at any age, the faces of favorite people, and just feeling glorious.

14 ways to love yourself: wedding
Joanna and me at my wedding

Next time you’re stuck waiting somewhere, instead of looking at the 10,000 alerts on your phone, think, what are the things that will flash before me, if that life-flash thing actually happens, right before I cross over to whatever’s next? And then, next time you start beating yourself up for saying or doing something ugly or stupid, try shifting your focus to one of those moments of perfection.

14 ways to love yourself: pirates
a few of my favorite kids (2 great-nieces and a great-nephew)

Stardust is a real thing. Pieces of stars have been falling to earth for millenia, trillenia, zillenia. That’s the carbon in carbon-based. You’re carbon-based. You’re made of stars.

Remember that, you awesome star-people.

#2. Breathe.

Wow. Breathe, she says. That’s exciting.

Actually, it kind of is. You’re breathing, which means you’re alive, which is a miracle. Most people aren’t. As in, they literally aren’t, they don’t exist at this particular vector in history.

Years ago, I was talking to a friend—one of those currently in the “aren’t” category—about smoking. Indulge me in a brief tangent. When I worked in restaurants, which I did for years, I smoked, not because I liked smoking—I never did it seriously for any stretch of time—but because if I took a break with a cigarette in my hand, the kitchen would let me finish my butt before I had to go back on the hot, noisy, stressful line. (For those of you who haven’t worked in restaurants, the line is that area in front of the stove where the food gets made.) Without the cancer stick in hand, it could be hard to get any respite. My friend nodded when I told him this, and said, “Smoking is a great way to take a moment for yourself.”

I haven’t smoked in a good while. But that “moment for yourself” idea has lingered. Smoking is about inhaling and exhaling. So without the cigarette, inhaling and exhaling is an even better way to take a moment for yourself. If you’re at work, go someplace you won’t be bothered. Or make a sign that says, “Pretend I’m Smoking. I’ll Be Back When I Finish.”

Take 5 minutes to anchor yourself in the present. How much of your waking time do you spend silently arguing with someone or dreading some future event? Or even just planning something either obligatory or even pleasant, but which distracts you from the here and now?

Y’all, the present is all we got. So breathe, and take in what’s around you. Notice the weather, inside or out, how the air feels on your skin. The smells, the colors, the sounds. Realize you have much to be grateful for, which leads us to….

#3. Practice Gratitude.

Yeah, I know. You were really hoping this list would be about bubble baths and ice cream and stuff like that, and IT WILL BE, young Skywalker.

Gratitude is the perfect antidote to pretty much any bad feeling you can have. Pissed at someone? Quickly think of 3 things you’re thankful for. Sad? Ditto. Scared? That’s harder, but ditto. Alone? You get the idea. There is so, so much to be grateful for. Also, self-pity resembles a snowball going down a slippery slope, and it’s really, really annoying to watch. So snap out of it.

This is NOT, by the way, to depression-shame anyone. Depression is not the same as self pity. It completely sucks. I had a bout with it after my son was born, as well as various low level episodes throughout my life. Depression feels, at least to me, like I’m treading gray plasma and barely keeping my face out of it and not really caring all that much if I go under. When people have told me in the midst of a spell to count my blessings and snap out of it, I have mentally rolled my eyes when I could muster the energy, which I generally couldn’t. If this describes you, please, be brave and tell someone you trust that you’re not feeling so great. If there’s no one you trust, this is a good resource of numbers that can help you find the care you need.

#4. Nurture Yourself. Literally.

Valentine’s Day revolves around dinner out. Next to Mother’s Day, it’s the holiday that restaurant staff dread more than any other. Sure, a lot of people are happy, but just as many are running some sort of Dashed Expectations marathon. Oh, the tension. So sad, so exhausting.

I heartily recommend that you cook your favorite stuff in a full 3-course menu, alone on Valentine’s Day, or at some other moment when you need a lift. A home-cooked meal with candles and music, or take-away eating at the table on a nice plate with candles and music (and not curled up on the couch or in bed; you’re worth getting up for) is such an awesome psychological boost. Like this big old bowl of zoodles and meatballs (recipe here). And guess what? It gets you breathing, present, grateful, all that stuff I’ve been nattering on about.

14 ways to love yourself: food

#5. Touch.

I studied an online course to try to get my sex mojo back, because post-menopause, that shit is gone, as the young folk say. At least, it feels about as active as Mt. Vesuvius, and Pompeii is, like, a couple millenia ago. (We’ll talk more about this in future: sex, not Pompeii, about which, alas, no one can do a damn thing. And by future, I mean future posts, not this one.)

One of the things the course recommended was simply stroking, very gently, the insides of the arms, the calves, and the hands and feet. I include the face and neck, adding pressure as you like it. Just the simple act of non-sexual self-touch is surprisingly wonderful and, well, sexy.

#6. Touch, part 2: the sexy kind.

Hell, yeah, masturbate. No pictures here. Choose your own adventure, with or without props.

#7. Touch, part 3: what you’re wearing.

People dress up for a Valentine. They whip out the sexy, silky undies or the champagne colored nightgown or p.j.s. So do this for yourself, and the sheer pleasure of the feeling of sexy, silky fabric against your skin. I know that it’s easy to think of treating yourself as meaning you put on your old sweats and rumpsprung bathrobe. But one night, try dressing up in the sexiest, best-feeling clothing you have. Just for you.

Louise Brooks: sheer, unadulterated perfection.

#8. Buy Flowers.

My dad bought my mom flowers, always. I grew up with them, and I love them. In fact, I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t respond to them with delight, though I’m continually surprised by how few people keep fresh flowers in their home on a regular basis. So if only one day a year, buy yourself some flowers, or, if you’re lucky enough to have some outside to pick, even better.

If you really want to go all out and do a bouquet from scratch, Trader Joe’s is a spectacular source. I prefer to buy a few different small groups of flowers and put them together, but that’s me. The other day, I picked up a clutch of icy blue hydrangeas, some bright purple somethings, and baby’s breath; I think it came to 9 bucks. Buy a flower, or 20. Just for you.

14 ways to love yourself: flowers

#9. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth.

I love candy. When we travel, I buy really awesome candy, thinking it will cure me of my liking the cheap stuff. And it does for a while, until I just admit that I’m too lazy to seek out the good stuff. For instance, in a movie theater, I buy Swedish fish. Because I love those things.

Those pink candies in the photo below? Those and everything else are from this amazing place, Gmeiner, in Freiburg, Germany, where Steve and I spend a fair amount of time. They beat the HELL out of Swedish fish.

14 ways to love yourself: sweets

Also ice cream. It’s easy to buy really good ice cream, because there’s always something high-end on sale at Meijer. I LOVE eating ice cream out of a pint container.

14 ways to love yourself: sweets

My sister Lisa doesn’t eat sugar, so she keeps a big container of cut-up melon around, and that’s pretty amazing, too. This summer we froze a bunch of cotton candy grapes. Yeah, they’re GMO as all get out, but damn, they’re tasty.

The big plus when you buy the expensive stuff, or when you eat fruit, is that you don’t eat as much. Get the best 2 chocolates or pint of gelato or perfect fruit that you can afford, and eat it at the table, completely absorbing the full impact of its yumminess. And of course, if you have a Fat Tooth rather than a Sweet one, well, you know what to do.

#10. Enjoy Your Body Exactly the Way It Is.

One of the greatest things about being alone is that you can completely revel, with zero shame, in all the things that we’ve been trained to be embarrassed about. Burp and fart with impunity. There’s something downright glorious about farting, loudly, when you’re all alone. If it’s a silent but deadly, hold your nose and fan, marveling at your power. Dance naked in front of a mirror and watch things move around in interesting ways. Think, yeah, that’s me. I rock.

Look, not all inhibitions are bad. I certainly don’t want anyone letting loose a massive stream of gas when we’re having an elegant dinner, or even an inelegant one. But total self-acceptance takes practice. So when you can, you do you, in all your naked, gassy glory.

Also, maybe open a window.

#11. Wallow in Entertainment Others May Find Questionable.

Oh, the long list of things I watch when Steve is not around. And vice versa. There are things that we love individually but not collectively. Killing Eve, The Man in the High Castle, Fleabag, Zhang Yi-Mou movies where people fly through the air and make swoopy noises: These are things Steve does not care for. (Truthfully, The Man in the High Castle frequently makes me lose my patience, which is why I have no idea what’s happened 2 episodes into season 3.)

Jody Comer rocking non-expensive pjs on Killing Eve

I myself cannot abide Mrs. Maisel, which Steve loves. I, frankly, would like to see Villanelle (above) dispatch Mrs. Maisel with her customary flair. But whatever. Watch whatever the hell you want. One episode, or a few. Savor it. Or them. Just be sure to give yourself a break before bed so you’re not rolling around with these people in your head all night.

#12. Create Something.

Everyone is inherently creative. Creating stuff is fun. People who work in so-called creative jobs will tell you it’s not that fun, but that’s why they call it work. To quote Sondheim, “Work is what you do for others, liebchen, art is what you do for yourself.”

So make something just for you, preferably by hand. Don’t make it with people judging it in mind, either telling you how wonderful it is, and you are by extension, or picking it apart because it’s not good enough. Just have fun with your pillow fort or Sculpy clay or gingerbread house or epic poem about Justin Beiber that you’re writing on a legal pad and not on a screen for the tactile thing. Or whatever. But play.

#13. Structure a Day for You and You Alone.

One of the things that appeals to me so much about the idea of a spa is that somebody else has figured absolutely everything out down to the minute. Like, wake up. Yoga. Hike. Eat a raisin (because this is one of those spas where it’s sort of boot camp-y). Sit and meditate while sage burns. Get a massage. Eat a lettuce leaf. Swim. Pick some flowers. Throw ’em in the ocean with a prayer. Fall into bed.

I really did pick these flowers and throw ’em in the ocean with a prayer. I was alone. It was awesome.

I get that my dream day might sound really awful to many, many people, especially the raisin part. Point is, you schedule your perfect day any damn way you want to. If necessary, pretend you’re making a schedule for someone who’s paying you. A day where you do whatever the hell you want. Then figure out how to do it.

Obviously, do stuff within your budget. But put some thought into it. Spend a month or two or more really figuring out how you can make it happen. Then do it.

#14. Do Absolutely Nothing Except Notice Things for 5 Minutes.

Hey! Since #13, it became opposite day.

Anyway, now we’re kinda back where we started, because I can’t over-emphasize how important it is just to breathe and be present.

I read not that long ago that, thanks to technology, we have lost those wonderful aimless minutes of simply standing around being bored. Why just stand in line or sit and wait for something when you can DO something, like read about a bunch of stuff that makes your brain reel and your blood pressure rise.

Italians have a lovely phrase, la dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. I challenge you to give it a shot. Because in “doing nothing,” you’re actually doing something very, very big. You’re getting out of your own head and all the rabbit holes that you’re used to going down. You’re looking around, noticing. No doubt what you notice will trigger thoughts, and then you’ll be back in your head. Climb back out when you can. I’ll bet you will find something that will make you realize, wow.

I just read a parable. A man is being chased by a tiger. He leaps off a cliff and grabs a vine, and as the tiger growls at him from the cliff, he sees another tiger below. Adding to his misery, he looks up and sees that mice are nibbling at the vine.

Somehow, the man, while hanging on this vine for what is left in his rapidly ending life, sees a beautiful strawberry. Don’t ask me how it got there. It’s a story. He picks it and eats it, and thinks, that was the Greatest Strawberry I’ve Ever Eaten.

That’s the end of the story. Let’s be that guy. Sure, the tigers are out there. So are the mice.

But so are the strawberries.

Bon appetit, my valentines.