Why do we give flowers to express our love for another person? Handwritten letters take effort and pouring out your heart, while diamonds represent eternity. Flowers on the other hand, are easy to acquire and will eventually wilt away. Of course, that is a rather cynical view. There are numerous reasons why people choose flowers as gifts.
Flowers have a language of their own, so choosing the right flower can mean all the difference for a person who has an interest in flowers. For example, red roses represent true love and passion, lilies represent innocence and purity, while lilacs represent memories of youth and your first love.
It is true that flowers are not permanent things, but they symbolise an aspect of love that is more important than “eternity”. A flower wilts when it is not cared for. Flowers wilt when they are not given enough water or just left in stale water for days without changing the vase water. Every flower needs different kind of care, for example, an orchid may wilt if left in direct sunlight and should be kept in indirect light.
Relationships are inherently dynamic – if you do not pay enough attention to the other person and constantly care and make an effort, it will slowly wilt until it dries up into bitterness. In that regard, perhaps flowers are a better gift than diamonds to symbolise love, as it is a reminder how true love is not something you expect to always stay the same, but something that you have to work hard to maintain.
Or perhaps there is a simpler reason we give flowers to each other. They are simply beautiful to look at add a fresh aroma to the environment. At the most superficial level, a lovely bouquet of flowers is a pleasant thing to receive. Perhaps beyond all the metaphors and hidden meaning, all we wish to say is: “I want to put a smile on your face”.
It is interesting to see how people tend to use taste-related metaphors to describe other people. If a person is hostile or spiteful, we describe them as “bitter”. If a person is sullen and gloomy, we say they are “sour”. Perhaps the most extensively used taste is “sweetness”. People have a tendency of calling their loved ones sweet-related names, such as “honey”, “sweetie”, “sugar” or “sweetheart”. This is directly reflected in the tradition of giving chocolate to a loved one on Valentine’s Day. Quite obviously, this is because we find sweetness the most palatable taste and something that is nice. On a related note, could there be a relationship between sweetness and personalities?
A group of psychologists decided to study whether people who like sweet foods, or “sweet tooth”s, have a certain personality trait or not. They did a survey where participants were asked what foods they liked most out of a list of 50 foods covering five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy). They also answered questions that gave an indication of their agreeableness (one of the five components of OCEAN personality traits). The psychologists then analysed whether there was an association between sweet tooths and agreeableness. Interestingly, a direct correlation was found between a liking of sweets and higher levels of agreeableness. This suggested that people who like sweet things tend to be more friendly, cooperative and compassionate.
But is the cause-and-effect relationship so simple? Could it be that sweet things cause people to be nicer? In a separate experiment, participants were randomly given a sweet food (chocolate), a not-sweet food (cracker) or no food. They were then asked to volunteer their time to help someone. It was found that those who were given something sweet were more willing to help another person compared to the other two groups.
This makes logical sense as eating sweets such as chocolate causes your brain to release a flood of hormones such as endorphin and serotonin from the absolute pleasure of the experience. These hormones make us feel happy, blissful and in love, which in turn make us more agreeable and willing to cooperate.
Although sweetness has numerous negative effects on the body such as weight gain and diabetes, there is no doubt that it is greatly beneficial for your mental health. If there is a bitter person around you, give them a good dose of chocolate to help them develop a sweeter personality. Or perhaps all they need is a sweet romance.
Valentine’s day is the one day put aside every year, on the 14th of February, to celebrate the love between a couple. It is a rather controversial(?) holiday with many people contesting that it is the result of chocolate and flower companies conspiring to increase sales and that people should love equally on every day. The day is full of hearts and cupids and chocolate, making it the perfect day for couples to show off to the world just how much they adore each other, while single people put up a nonchalant face while desperately trying to distract themselves from the fact that they alone (there is also a statistic that states suicide rates peak during Valentine’s day).
February 14th was not always associated with romantic love. Originally it was a day honouring Saint Valentine of Rome (it is debated whether day honours him or another Saint Valentine – Valentine of Terni). In 1st century Rome, it was illegal for Christians to marry. Saint Valentine secretly performed weddings for Christians under threat of death (helping Christians was illegal too). He was eventually caught, imprisoned, tortured and killed.
As one can see, the story (and its ending) is not the most romantic one and Valentine was honoured for helping Christians rather than being involved in marrying people. It appears that the romantic association started around the 14th century in Parlement of Foules by Chaucer. Up until the 19th century, the only custom for Valentine’s Day was the giving of cards (or “valentines”) between loved ones. It was in the mid-1900’s when the practice of giving roses and chocolates arose (most likely due to advertising campaigns by companies for the commercialisation of the day), with the diamond industry promoting a custom of giving jewellery on Valentine’s Day.
Another not-so-lovely story related to Valentine’s Day is the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of Chicago in 1929. In a conflict related to gangs and bootlegging, the South Side Italian gang led by Al Capone initiated a deadly attack resulting in the death of seven deaths.