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The Best Way to Say I Love You

February 14, 2016 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

And it's not through an expensive box of chocolates or diamond earrings.

Love is in the air.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion Valentine cards are sent each year. One billion! That's 25 percent of all greeting cards sent throughout the year. And according to the latest report from the people at, the average amount spent on Valentine’s Day gifts comes to a staggering $512 – more expensive than even Mother’s Day which averages $173 according to the National Retail Federation.

It’s not cheap to say “I love you.” But in light of the most recent findings about the things that really offer us the greatest long-term happiness and fulfillment, perhaps it’s time for us to reassess the best way for us to share our mutual adoration, affection and friendship.

The $512 average amount of money spent to demonstrate love is still made up mainly of a basket of goodies like really expensive chocolates, diamond earrings, a bottle of champagne and a dozen roses. Bottom line: it’s stuff. What’s fascinating is that in the last decade a great amount of psychological research has shown that there is something that brings us considerably more happiness than possessions. It’s not what we own, but what we experience that gives us far more joy and lasting pleasure.

Memories are worth far more than money.

Memories are worth far more than money. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University researched the link between money and happiness and concluded, “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we quickly adapt to them. Our larger investments should go toward experiences that create lifelong memories rather than an item that will lose its 'cool' factor within a few years (if it’s lucky).”

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology shows people who made expensive purchases on products rather than experiential investments often devalued a new item’s worth directly after buying it. It simply isn’t true that if you buy “stuff” it lasts and you have it for years but if you pay for an experience it’s over and done within hours or a day. "Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods," says Gilovich. "You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences. Life is about memories, not diamonds".

A study that measured the difference in happiness between our feelings after major material purchases and those resulting from expensive experiences conclusively showed that although initially the joy they engendered was about the same in the immediate aftermath, over time there was a significant greater amount of satisfaction from recalling events than from ownership of objects.

We very quickly get used to things and with the passage of time hardly even notice them any longer. But memories fill us with ever greater appreciation. Stuff clogs our space, stories soothe our souls.

That information can guide us in figuring out how to bring happiness to others and how to say "I love you" in ways that leave the most powerful and lasting impression.

Dr. Gilovich, in urging us to choose memorable moments over major purchases for our own gratification, offers us the powerful image of someone reflecting on his life at the end of days -- with no one ever regretting not buying a later model iPhone -- but grieving over not having spent enough time or shared enough happy occasions with their loved ones. Shouldn’t that be the ideal model as well for the way in which we try to bring happiness to others as well?

Memories come from moments spent together, from being with far more than giving to, from opening our hearts far more than our wallets. Memories come from sharing dreams, from taking the time to truly listen to each other, from demonstrating our love with the language of respect and of admiration. Compliments cost very little – and yet they are priceless. Signs of affection don’t come with a price tag – and yet they’re far more appreciated than anything which can be bought from Amazon.

Want to know the best way to say "I love you"? The best gift isn’t something that comes wrapped in a package. It’s a shared moment that says there’s nobody else in the world with whom you’d rather like to spend the rest of your life.

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