Heart-Mind Valentines for Compassionate Love


Valentine's Day the Heart-Mind Way

Valentine's Day doesn't have to be about ONE special someone. It can be an opportunity to extend feelings of love and compassion to all those around us, near and far. In this activity, children learn about Heart-Mind well-being as they exchange valentines and cultivate compassionate love for family and friends.

Why do we want to cultivate compassionate love in children and youth?

Compassion is integral to healthy relationships and both personal and inter-personal well-being.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ― His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness 

We know that compassion[1]:

  1. Motivates us to help those who are suffering 
  2. Allows us to have caring relationships 
  3. Helps us lean on others to buffer us from stress[2]
  4. Improves mood and feelings of social connectedness[3]
  5. Activates brain regions linked to prosocial motivation[4] and feelings of reward 
  6. Can be increased through compassion training and loving-kindness meditation

Compassionate love is one way to express compassionate feelings, thoughts, and actions towards self and others. Compassionate love is different from romantic love, and can be felt towards almost anyone! It is the type of love that may offer the greatest benefits to individuals who give it and receive it, as well as to society as a whole - and even all of humanity! Read on to learn the basics of compassionate love, grounded in psychological research.

Compassionate love: 

  • is a self-giving love that values others
  • is an orientation towards others that involves caring, concern, tenderness, support, understanding, and helping, particularly when someone is suffering or in need
  • has benefits for both giver and recipient, including:
  • both compassionate love and its benefits are typically experienced more strongly for people we are close to and care about

Activity: Heart-Mind Valentines for Compassionate Love (2 x 30 minutes, plus homework)

This activity draws on elements of loving-kindness meditation and compassion training to practice compassionate love for family, friends, and close others. It takes about 30 minutes on two different days to complete, plus 10-30 minutes of a fun, collaborative outside-of-class activity between sessions. It is suitable for primary - intermediate students. Parents can also do this activity with their children at home. 

  1. Cut out medium-sized paper hearts from red, orange, blue, green, and purple construction paper. Cut enough for each person in the class to have one heart, plus a few extras. (You can ask older students to cut their own paper hearts if you wish).
  2. Begin at desks or on the carpet. Hand each student a heart. 
  3. Explain that each heart is a colour that matches one part of the Heart-Mind Well-Being heart. Lead a brief discussion to explain each colour of the heart at an age-appropriate level. Refer to these resources from Heart-Mind Online for suggestions.[5] 
  4. As a class, brainstorm simple things that we can do with or for another person[6]  to increase the strength of each colour of the heart.  
  5. Ask each child to write on their paper heart one thing that they can do with or for another person to increase the strength of the colour of their heart.[7] You may want to help younger students with this step. 
  6. Have each student exchange their paper heart ("Heart-Mind Valentine") with another student. 
  7. Outside-of-class activity:  Each student now carries out the task written on the Heart-Mind Valentine they received. During home time, recess, or lunch, each student completes the task written on their paper heart with or for a family member, friend, or close other[8]. Remind students that they must ask this person for permission or consent first. 
  8. At home or in class, each student then writes or draws on the back of their paper heart 1)  how doing the task made them feel[9] and 2) how they think it made the other person feel.  Extension activity: Brainstorm a list of emotion words[10] with the class to help describe these feelings, or provide a teacher generated list for students to reference. 
  9. Returning to their seats, invite students to share what they did to strenghten their heart with others and how it made them feel. Focus particularly on how they think it made the recipient of their helping feel.[11]
  10. Display the hearts in your classroom[12] for a colourful show of Heart-Mind well-being and compassionate love. 
  11. We invite you to take a photo of your display and post it on social media[13], tagging us on Facebook or Instagram (@dalailamacenter).

A 2009 Korean study used MRI to measure brain activity in 21 volunteers aged 18-40 years old while they used a neutral or compassionate attitude to view pictures of neutral or sad facial expressions. The study found that viewing the sad facial expressions with compassion activated the midbrain-ventral striatum/septal network, which is involved prosocial behavior (behavior that benefits others or society as a whole, such as sharing, donating, or volunteering), leading to feelings of reward. 

Simply put, compassion can be thought of as "being moved by another's suffering and wanting to help". 

A 2008 study involving 93 non-meditators found that individuals who participated in a short (around 10 minute) loving-kindness meditation and visualization experienced improved mood, increased feelings of social connectedness, and greater positivity towards strangers compared to controls (neutral imagery induction and visualization).

A 2010 study involving female San Francisco residents found that higher trait compassion was linked to an enhanced stress-buffering response to social support. This finding led researchers to conclude that compassion for others may increase our ability to receive social support, leading to better adaptation to stress. 

For example, a child with a red heart would write down one thing they could do with another person to help them feel more alert and engaged, and a child with a purple heart would write down one thing they could do for another person to strengthen their feelings of getting along with others.

For example, we can listen to soothing music with a friend who is feeling anxious to strengthen our secure and calm heart, or hold the door open for a friend whose hands are full to strengthen our compassionate and kind heart.

This step actively builds compassionate love by asking students to put their heart-strengthening task into action in service of another person. 

Compassion is enhanced by imagining how helping another person makes the other person feel. The benefits of giving compassionate love to others are enhanced by reflecting on how we feel good when we help others. 

Awareness of how others feel is an important dimension of compassion. 

Hole punch the top of each heart and hang with string from the ceiling or light fixture, or use a clothes peg to clip each one to a string or wire strung across a bulletin board.

Post on facebook or twitter and tag @HeartMindOnline or email to [email protected] 

Having a large emotional vocabulary boosts compassion and helps children better regulate their own emotions.