Why we don't need to be happy all the time

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Walk into the average bookstore, and you’ll find at least one department focused on happiness. The topic is on our minds a lot. Being happy is more important to most of us than having a great career or lots of money in the bank. But does this desire for happiness actually make us happy? 

It is often said that we need to create our own happiness, and how being sad is bad for energy. Spiritual people are positive all the time, right? Do you ever see a monk look sad, or even angry? Well, think again. In Buddhism, suffering is part of life. Pain, sadness, anger: they are all emotions that make us human. After all, without sadness, there can be no happiness. No rain, no flowers. William Breen, clinical psychologist, once put it like this: ‘There's this idea out there that our emotions are 'positive' or 'negative,' [but] I think all of our emotions are normal and adaptive and have a purpose or function. To use them all means we are living a rich, fulfilling life.’

Embrace your shitty day

Living a rich and fulfilling life, by simply allowing the emotions we experience as a human being to exist. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Acceptation is key. A monk bumps into a table every once in a while, and he probably doesn’t like it any more than you do. Sometimes you can’t control what happens in your life, and it makes you sad. But that’s OK, it’s part of life. 

It’s like Morgan Harper Nichols once said: ‘For the highs and lows, and moments in between, mountains and valleys, rivers and streams, for where you are now, and where you will go, for ‘I’ve always known’ and ‘I told you so’, for ‘nothing is happening’ and ‘all has gone wrong’, it’s here in this journey, you will learn to be strong, you will get where you’re going, landing where you belong’.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy 

Having a hard time embracing setbacks? American psychologist Steven C. Hayes developed the ACT method for that. ACT means Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a new form of behavioral therapy. The ACT method helps to live a rich and meaningful life, teaching you how to handle setbacks that will inevitably cross your path. ACT uses six powerful principles that allow everybody to develop a skill that will enrich your life. It’s about:

*Acceptation: actively inviting unpleasant thoughts, feelings and situations

*Defusion: letting go of your thoughts, so they can’t hurt you anymore

*Yourself as a context: creating a new, more flexible relationship with yourself

*Here and now: being in touch with the present

*Values: discovering what’s really important to you

*Acting with devotion: taking actions based on your values. 

It’s in the little things 

Of course, you can still look for happiness. Just know that the things outside of you, will usually just make you happy for a short while. It’s the little things in life that make you really happy, according to happiness expert and sociologist Christine Carter in her book The Sweet Spot. Gratitude, she says, is like ‘the holy grail to happiness’. And you can teach yourself this gratitude. For instance by keeping a special diary. At the end of every day, you write down three things you’re grateful for. Your beautiful family, the fact that your fridge was filled – but also the least pleasant things, because they make you value the good things more. In everything, give thanks (even after your angry or sad mood). 

Text: Gabriëlle Koster - Photo: Ronaldo Oliveira

How do you know it’s time to let love go?

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What do we need to be truly happy? Thich Nhat Hanh says that freedom brings happiness. ‘If we hold onto something in our heart, we can’t be free.’ But how do you know it’s time to let go of love? Five signals that might bring clarity.

If little things annoy you

You love a person, so you feel like he or she deserves it that you work on the relationship. But when their smallest habits give you the creeps – does he really have to laugh so hard? Why can’t she stop tapping her feet while watching TV? – perhaps it’s time to take your irritation seriously.

If you haven’t had a relaxed conversation in ages

Every couple disagrees every once in a while, and a good argument can be a big relief that creates space between you. But if you find cause for a row in everything, and you say things to your lover you don’t want to say – and yet, don’t even know what it is you’re so angry about – something bigger might be bothering you.

If you keep defending them

Perhaps he’s just not feeling that great. Perhaps she’s too busy at work, or there’s something bothering her in her family situation. Perhaps, sure, it could be. But be honest to yourself. Don’t keep justifying that they’re not there for you, when deep inside you know that this isn’t a temporary thing. No matter how much you want them to stay – if the feeling has gone, you can’t put a spell on it to make it reappear. You deserve someone who wants you with all their heart.

If you don’t like your mirror image anymore

Through the years, people change, and of course, a relationship attributes to that changes. This can be a beautiful thing, because you help eachother grow. Compare the old you, the one you were before your relationship, with who you are now. Are you content, or do you feel you want to go in another direction? If the latter is the case, there are several possible causes. But you might want to think about it.

If it hurts to go on this way

Everyone who’s been in a relationship that lasted longer than a couple of months, knows that it’s impossible to be over the moon all the time. Sometimes, you have to abide, and go through a difficult patch in order to grow together. But if you feel like your relationship has been costing you more energy than it brings you for a long time, and that together, you won’t reach the place you want to go to, then perhaps it’s time to stop trying.


5 simple ways to increase your creativity (even if you think you're not creative)

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Do you have tons of great ideas, but hardly turn them into action? Or do you find it difficult to get new ideas? Even the most creative people in the world sometimes experience a phase like that. Lots of artists keep staring at a blank canvas now and then, and writers are all too familiar with the phenomenon of the writer’s block. 

 So: let’s praise simple tricks to channel your inner creative. These tricks also work if you don’t have a creative job, or if you think you lack any creative genes. 

1. Change your routines

By acting differently, you start thinking differently. Tomorrow morning, don’t start with a cup of coffee while you answer your email, but go outside for a walk. If you usually work on creative projects at night, try and see what happens if you start working earlier in the day. Change of scenery is also very beneficial for creativity. Try a new coffee place, a park or any other place that gets the juices flowing. 

2. Avoid digital distractions 

Internet is a valuable source of inspiration (where would we be without Pinterest?), but it’s also a continuous source of distraction. Which doesn’t benefit creativity at all. To be creative, you need to be able to focus on whatever it is you’re making or conceiving. The sounds of yet another email, text or Instagram-like don’t add to the creative process. Make sure you can’t be disturbed by digital distractors. Put off all notifications and, if you’re still tempted, put away your phone. 

3. Schedule deadlines 

Doesn’t sound like fun, but it works great. If you make an appointment with yourself, to finish the end product of your daydreaming at the end of the day (or week, or month), it pushes you to find inspiration in yourself and everything around you. And especially: to just get started. This tip works even better if you share the appointment with someone else. Tell your partner you’ll show them your concept tonight, or ask a friend to come and admire your new homemade patchwork blanket. A deadline helps you to focus. After all, you want to be ready by then…

4. Start (and finish) challenges

A 365 day project helps to do something creative every day, no matter how small or simple. Some ideas: photograph your cat every day, draw a different plant each day, make a new breakfast dish or write a small poem every day. You can also create a new challenge every month. Turn October into photography month, November into writhing month and December into macramé month. The only way to keep challenging and learn new things, is by doing. 

5. Get enough sleep

The image of artists making their best work at night is quite romantic. But a lack of sleep doesn’t make you any more creative. After a good night’s sleep you’re sharper, all charged up for a new day, and you just achieve more. Rest can be a big boost for creativity. And it helps to plan your days in a similar manner. Go to bed around the same time every night, and get up at the same time too. 

Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo: Jed Villejo


When parenting is a struggle, this is how you find wisdom in yourself

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You can look for solutions, but learning to accept that there isn’t one yet, might be more helpful.

Question of conscience: what do you think when your kids are going at eachother’s throats? ‘What am I doing wrong?’, ‘Why me?’ Once you realize this happens in thousands of families, you can look at it more kindly. It’s only normal. Just put the kettle on, get yourself a cup of tea and be friendly towards yourself. Acceptance is key.

Learning to accept it

We’re so used to looking for solutions. If we’re cold, we put on a sweater, if we’re thirsty, we grab a drink. When it comes to raising children, it’s usually not that clear what we should do. You can look for a solution, but you can also learn to accept that there isn’t an ideal one yet. There’s something going on, you better learn to deal with it in stead of fight it. Just accept that you don’t always know what’s best. That’s how you find the wisdom in yourself.

Driving you crazy

Your own children know exactly which buttons to push to unleash the dragon inside you. They can drive you crazy. Do you know the feeling, when you lash out at them so hard you hardly recognize yourself? If a fight with your child stresses you out too much, you tend to go back to your earliest experiences: back to when you were raised. You stop reacting like a ‘healthy adult’, but you get in ‘vulnerable or angry child’ mode, feeling attacked, or you act like the ‘punishing or demanding parent’ you know from when you were young.

Like two angry children

Situation: my youngest comes up to me in the schoolyard, crying, saying his big brother and a friend kicked me. I ask my eldest and his friend to join us. The friend comes up to us, my eldest refuses to. He says something cheeky, I get frustrated because he doesn’t do as he’s told. Like two angry children, we lash out at eachother. In the end, he walks away and I decide to listen to the friend first. That’s how I find out that my eldest didn’t do anything, but that my youngest mentioned his name because it was hís friend and he was there too. After all, I realize that because of his aggressive behavior, I acted like the vulnerable child and then turned into the demanding parent. My eldest felt so cornered by me –his angry mother, in the middle of the schoolyard – that he immediately became defensive. A balanced grown up would probably have taken a few breath before talking to him… Fortunately, we’re never too old to learn.

Take some distance

Learning to recognize whether you are acting from your child position or from an adult from your youth, you can mention it to yourself: that’s right, I’m in this or that mode. It creates some distance, allowing you not to identify with the feeling and to take some time to react differently. We tend to push away these ‘old’ feelings, while the only way to change old patterns is by acknowledging them and allowing them to exist.

Anger is OK

That was the question of conscience asked by my mindfulness teacher about, too: can you endure your child’s emotions? Can your child be angry? When there’s anger or sadness, can you just allow it to be there, without reacting? Anger doesn’t have to be erased or solved immediately, as long as you are simply there. That makes your child feel safe to express themselves: I can be angry, mom won’t panic. You teach them all emotions are welcome: anger, fear, sadness. Acknowledge these feelings, that are often put away or hidden. Cherish them, they can teach you a lot of things (and if you tell your kids today, it saves them a lot of work later).

Whose pain is it, actually?

Feelings of not being seen, not being heard, are universal. Each of us sees others from their own upbringing, patterns and shortcomings. How you were raised becomes your second nature. It helps to ask yourself: do you react the way you do because you want to help your child, or because it touches something old in you? It all starts with acknowledging, enduring and regulating your own emotions. If you can welcome them, it can be healing. Not just for you, but also for your children.

The key to mindful parenting according to founding father Jon Kabat-Zinn:

1 Sovereignty – can you see the child the way they are, without wanting to change them from self-interest? Respect their autonomy; that’s how you allow them to show their true self and find their own way. Everyone wants to be who they really are, become who they can be.

2 Empathy – kids always know when we’re not connected to them. Be aware, not just physically, but with your mind and your heart. That’s how children feel the confidence they need to tell you about their struggles.

3 Acceptance – you don’t have to solve the problems a child brings up immediately, as long as you let them know you are there and listen to what’s going on, even if you can’t imagine precisely. Just by allowing it to be, you make confusion or insecurity bearable.

From: Everyday Blessings, the inner work of mindful parenting.

How to get through the week mindfully:

·      In situations that involve intense emotions, try to find out whether these are your emotions or your child’s. Do you feel sorry for them for being bullied, or are you thinking of your own youth?

·      Having an argument at home? Try to see a dispute with your child as a meditation. Breathe in, breathe out. They behave in a certain way, he aren’t their behavior. Can you see hem for who they really are?

·      Try a walking meditation. You can easily do it on the way to the coffee machine, to the supermarket or walking the dog. That’s how you learn to look at the world around you differently and everything feels refreshingly new.

Text: Nicole van Borkulo - Photo: Carolina Sanchez B


A message to all the worriers and pessimists: you are not your thoughts

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Negative thoughts can get the best of us and create a cage that’s difficult to get out of – until we realize that the bars of the cage are imaginary.

In his world famous poem ‘Invictus’, William Earnest Hernley wrote: ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’ These words gave Nelson Mandela the power to go on during his imprisonment in South-Africa. It’s like it often is with art: it has a different meaning to every individual.

Thoughts at the steering wheel

Personally, I read the famous poem as a manifesto for self awareness and faith in yourself. A nice and inspiring thought. Yet, I often find myself in situations where my thoughts are at the steering wheel – not me. I let my thoughts decide what I think, regardless of whether they are true.

At times when I'm feeling good, that’s fine. My thoughts are beautiful, cheery and positive. It’s more difficult at times when I don’t feel so great. Things can get dark and destructive in my mind. The nagging voice of self criticism keeps talking and before I know it, I’m in a downward thinking spiral.

Thoughts are just thoughts

Luckily, there are several ways to escape the negativity. Humans are not victims of their own thoughts and emotions. Our thoughts don’t have to decide the course of our lives nor our moods. Thoughts are just thoughts. If we let that insight really sink in, we no longer have to fight the thoughts. We can just allow them to be there.

Four questions

One of the originators of this theory is bestselling author Byron Katie. She created The Work, a method of finding negative thoughts and examining them by asking yourself four questions. Katie believes emotions such as sadness, anger and dissatisfaction come from our faith in our own negative, untrue thoughts.

Kind thoughts

The four simple questions from The Work help you to keep your thoughts from getting the best of you, and looking at them in a different light. This causes a distance that makes us kinder. Kinder towards ourselves and towards others around us. Or, as Katie would say: ‘I don’t let go of my thoughts. I encounter them with understanding, and then they let go of me.’

Destructive thoughts? Ask yourself these four questions (and write down your answers)

1. Is it true?

2. Can you be certain it’s true?

3. How do you react, what happens when you believe the thoughts?

4. Who would you be without these thoughts?

Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Marco Xu

Are you an introvert? Then these 7 things are probably very important to you

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An introvert is –in a really tiny nutshell – someone who gets energy out of being alone. Because society is mainly focused on extroverts, it’s really important that introverts’ boundaries and needs are respected. Of course all people are different, but in general, introverts really need these seven things.

1. Time to recover after a busy day

No, there’s nothing selfish or theatrical about wanting some me-time during, or after, a busy day. Introverts process stimuli and information on a very deep level. Because extroverts process it in a more superficial way, they can handle much more stimuli. For introverts, it’s really important to have enough time to recover.

2. Meaningful conversations

Of course, sometimes it’s nice to simply talk about what the day was like, but because introverts are often deep thinkers, they need conversations that go beyond that every once in a while. Introverts are conscientious and think a lot, about themselves and the world. That’s why, more then extroverts, they need conversations about these topics.

3. Just being silent together

Introverts’ batteries are charged in silence. That’s why they need to have people around them who are just as good at being silent as they are. Not because they don’t have anything to say, but because it can be really comfortable to embrace a good silence. By being quiet together, you allow thoughts and ideas to really get through to you. Silence is not something that needs to be eliminated, it can be beautiful.

4. A peaceful place of their own

A room or a spot where they can retreat, surrounded by their own stuff, even if it’s just for a minute. That’s where introverts find the space to recharge their batteries. It’s an essential part of a happy life. Being able to spend time alone is very healthy for an introvert.

5. The chance to think before they reply

For an introvert, an impatient partner or colleague can be extremely stressful. Whereas extroverts lean on their short-term memory, introverts turn inside. That’s why they need more time to find the right words. If people don’t pay them any mind, they miss out on beautiful ideas.

6. Friends who understand their absence

Introverts need friends who understand they can’t always be around. It’s not because they don’t like to spend time together, or hate parties, but it’s all about balance for them. When they get too busy, they get very tired. It’s nothing personal when they decide to stay in. They simply need it.

7. Personal attention

For extroverts, it can be hard to imagine what it’s like to be introvert (and vice versa, by the way). They think: who doesn’t like to go to a party? Introverts need social events, too, they just prefer to spend it one on one.

Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Neil Bates


Why there's nothing wrong with having regrets - we can't do without them

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Having regrets is useless – that’s a strong conviction in western culture. If an old person looks back on their life without regret, they’ve lived a beautiful life. But is it possible to avoid having regrets? And should we want to?

Kathryn Schulz hadn’t even left the tattoo parlor yet when she was already feeling regretful. She, the kind of person who always made her choices very consciously, impulsively had her body tattooed. And she could never undo it. The feeling was overwhelming, all she could think was: I wish I’d never done it. 

‘I want it to go away’

That’s how regrets work, she says in her TED Talk: they evoke denial. ‘I want it to go away’ isn’t a realistic thought, because the tattoo will never do just that. And yet, the feeling is very strong. You just don’t understand: how did I make this stupid mistake? You disapprove of your choice, may even feel the desire to punish yourself: ‘I could really hit myself.’ 

No one wants to have regrets. In our culture, the conviction that regrets have to be prevented is innate – at least, having regrets about things you haven’t done in your life. People who look back at their lives without regrets, have had a wonderful life – we often see that in movies. 

Learning to live with regrets 

But why do we disapprove regret? ‘It's almost impossible not to have regrets,’ Schulz says. ‘If you want to be a real human being, you have to learn to live with regrets.’ And she has some advice about how to do that: 

Tip 1: You’re not the only one

If you search for ‘regret’ and ‘tattoo’ on Google, you find millions of hits. 17 percent of American people regret their tattoos. It probably goes just as well for other choices. We all make decisions we regret later on – and knowing that can be very comforting. 

Tip 2: Laugh at yourself 

Laughing about ‘stupid’ jokes helps to put things in perspectives. Even in the most dreadful situations, when we’d do anything to turn back time. Schulz: ‘Everyone who’s felt pain and grief, knows black humor helps us to survive. It connects the positive and the negative.’ 

Tip 3: The lesson of the tattoo

She decided to have a tattoo –a compass- because she wanted to capture an important life lesson: the importance of discovering new things. She wanted to make herself remember. But the lesson she did remember, was a different one: if we want to have dreams in life, and to love, we have to feel pain when things go wrong. We have to learn how to love our imperfect actions, and forgive ourselves for the mistakes. 

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Liel Anapolsky

Is it hard for you to be kind to yourself? This is how you become your own best friend

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For some reason, it's much easier to be kind and understanding towards your friends than towards yourself. But why would you treat yourself any different? This is how you can work your way towards more self love. 

Just like your friends get into situations where they really need you, there are situations in which you really need yourself. For instance when you made a mistake at work, or when a quarrel with your partner made you feel restless. If a friend comes to you at times like these, you probably try to comfort them and to be understanding. Now try to remember a time when you were feeling bad. Did you use the same comforting words then?

Strict and critical 

If you are like most people, you probably didn’t. Most people find it easier to be kind to others than to themselves. At the times when we need friendly, kind words the most, we are often strict and very critical.

The key to happiness

Of course, deep down, we know a little kindness brings us much more than perfectionism and self criticism. Still, it’s often hard to practice that. In our society, the idea still prevails that happiness is to be found outside ourselves. A nice home, good relationship, nice kids, challenging job. We aim for perfection in everything we do. If we fail, if we’re having a hard time, we scold ourselves and struggle through the days – looking for the ultimate happiness we never really seem to find. That’s because the key to happiness is not outside ourselves, it’s in us.

Practice and patience

If things are peaceful and calm inside us, the world will be, too. Anyone who's aware of that fact, has taken the first step in the right direction, towards self compassion. Awareness is the first step towards change. But because we are conditioned to scold ourselves, the mind doesn’t change overnight. It requires lots of practice and patience. The journey towards self compassion is not an easy one, but it’s definitely worth your while.

This will help you to get started

1.   Awareness is the first step towards change

Try to challenge yourself each day to make your internal dialogue one of positive, encouraging words. We often don’t realize how we talk to ourselves. This exercise might help you to do just that. Write down what you would tell a good friend who made a big mistake. Which words would you use, and wat tone of voice? Once you’re done, do exactly the same, only address your words to yourself. The two texts are probably quite different.

2.   Be kind to yourself (and find out what you really need)

We’re all different and we all have our personal needs regarding positive thinking. Find out what’s important to you and turn it into positive mantras. Are you a real perfectionist at work? Remember that failing is OK. You don’t have to be perfect – being flawed probably makes you much more fun to be around. Another example: are you a sensitive person and do you fantasize about being immune to the power of other people’s words? Then resolve to let go of unpleasant words. It might help you to be a little kinder towards yourself.

3.   Practice makes perfect (so allow yourself some time)

If you’ve gotten aware of the way you talk to yourself, you can change it. It doesn’t happen overnight and it involves lots of practice. At first, it probably feels a bit awkward and it’s not easy. However, after a while you will find that friendly, kind words will take up more space in your vocabulary, and in the end, it will be your default setting. 

Source: ‘Hartvol’ – Marlous Kleve

Text: Joanne Wienen - Photo: Brooke Cagle

How to find yourself again after a long relationship

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Just experienced a breakup? You haven’t lost anything, Susan Smit can tell you from experience. On the contrary. You'll be surprised how much you will retrieve.

Maybe you’ve been through it, just like me. Someone ended the relationship. And maybe, after the break up, you realized how this person had been disengaging for a while - in baby steps. You probably didn’t want to feel it at the time, but you noticed all of it. Every formal hug. Every dutiful ‘I love you’. Every strayed look. Every routine kiss. Every dull goodbye. Every soulless lovemaking. All of it.

Because you sense every imbalance in your relationship, you’re not mad. If a heart that is so important to you, remains locked to you more and more often, you notice. It feels as if you’re delightedly standing on their doorstep with a package, but the mailbox is nailed up. There you are, strolling with your package, going home eventually, planning on trying again tomorrow. 

On your toes 

You've worked harder and harder for less and less love. But the more you try to to delight the other person and the more you are on your toes, the less fun and attractive you are. At the same time, to you, your disengaging loved onebecomes more and more eligible (love’s economy is so unfair!). He or she isn’t entirely available, and a love you have to fight for becomes more and more important – to you.

Sometimes, you’re so crazy in love, so scared of losing your beloved, you don’t even notice what it is you’re throwing in the fire just to keep it burning. You throw in your self esteem, the comfortable jeans that he or she doesn’t like, your true opinion about the other’s project at work, your high heels –to make sure we don’t tower them-, your razors because she likes beards, your vulnerability, your morning mood, your exuberance that’s experienced as hysteria. Until all that is left is a sad pile of ashes.

You're still here 

And there you are, after it finally ended. On your own, gazing at everything that’s lost. That's OK - keep on gazing, for as long as you want to. But don’t forget you’re still here. You! And realize that all these things –from your strong opinions to your exuberance or your shyness – aren’t in that pile of ashes. They are still hidden inside you, and all they want is to appear again.

You haven’t lost anything, I can tell you from experience. On the contrary: there is so much you will retrieve. 

Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Christian Gertenbach

This is a letter to all the children of divorced parents

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Dear child of divorced parents,

You probably know the song, and its words may be recognizable to you: ‘Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love, sometimes two homes are better than one, some things you can’t tell your sister ‘cause she’s still too young, yeah you’ll understand, when you love someone.’

It’s for the better, they say. You will understand it when you’re older, they say. That’s how love can be, they say. But in the meantime, you’re the one who has to travel from one house to the other all the time. You’re the one who has to miss mom and dad – always one of them. You’re the one who sees other children in the street who are walking between their mom and dad, and who think it’s the most natural thing in the world.

It’s all on your plate

Maybe, you can’t even remember the time when your parents lived in the same house with you. Or maybe they have just told you they are splitting up. Either way, dear child, I feel for you. I would want to carry the ‘missing’ for you, take away all the restlessness and beseech your fears, just as I –a child of divorced parents myself – would want want to do for my two small children and my two ‘bonus’ teenage daughters. But it’s all on your plate, no matter how small or big you are.

You love your mom and dad equally, no matter who left, no matter who was unfaithful, no matter who is said to be ‘guilty’ of making the family fall apart. You hate how one of your parents rejects or criticizes the other, because you feel they are rejecting part of who you are. Your heart hurts when one of your parents doesn’t want the other to come over, so they don’t even know what your bedroom looks like – as if your life exists of two separate parts, and there is no glue in the world that could keep them together. Your heart jumps up and you feel safe when you hear one of them speak the words: ‘Your mom and I have discussed…’ or ‘You are just as skillful as your dad.’ 

Memories have become complicated

When everything changed, you probably saw sadness, anger or panic in your parents. Or perhaps they didn’t show it, but you could feel it. Slowly but surely, there was room for laughter again, the frown left your dad’s forehead and the sadness left your mom’s eyes and everyone seemed to get used to the new situation. It comforted you, but you don’t like them acting like things were never different. Why did the old photo albums disappear from the cupboard, why did they take away the picture of you as a baby with mom and dad and why do they act indifferently when you share a memory from the time you all lived together? It seems as if that time is no longer allowed to exist, because it wasn’t ‘real’, or one big mistake.

Don’t you hate it when one of your parents tries to get information from you about the other, or when you have to pass on messages between them? After all, you’re not a mailman, are you? And don’t you hate it when appointments about when you’ll be picked up or taken someplace are vague or keep changing. Or when your parents try to compete about who’s the nicest parent.

Know that you are loved

Dear child, even though your parents make mistakes and handle the situation awkwardly, know they never intend to hurt you. Know that your feelings matter. Know that you’re always missed, but that you don’t have to worry about the parent you’re not with at the moment. Know that your feelings are normal, and that you are always allowed to feel and express them. Know that you are allowed to miss the other parent, that you’re never betraying the parent you’re with. Know you are loved, and that your parents’ love for new partner or new bonus children will never ever change that.

Know that you were never a mistake, even if your mom or dad talks about their relationship as if it was a mistake. You’re the opposite: you’re the biggest gift they ever had.

With love and respect for who you are and how you’re handling all this,


Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Japheth Mast


Feeling lonely sometimes? This is how you make new friends

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Friendships are incredibly important for our feeling of wellbeing and our health. If you look around you, do you feel like the circle of people surrounding you is a bit small? You can do something about it. Making new friends doesn't happen overnight, but if you follow these tips, you will definitely succeed. 

Do the things that make you happy

Having things in common is an important condition for friendship. That's why it's a good starting point to think about the things you like to do. If you love to go to the museum, look for a group of people who visit expositions together. Are you crazy about dancing, take salsa lessons and find kindred spirits there. If you're doing something you enjoy, you are having a good time anyway, regardless of the people around you. It makes it a lot easier to connect to them. 

Tell people you are looking 

'Looking', it might have a bit of a desperate ring to it, and of course, desperate is the last thing you want to be. The key is to let go of that thought (and your judgment about yourself). There's nothing wrong with wanting to increase your circle of friends. Friendship is important in a person's life, it even increases your health - just as much as quitting smoking! So tell your friends and family that you would like to meet new people. They will probably give you advice, invite you over when they're meeting other friends - who will probably be nice too, because otherwise they wouldn't be your friends' friends. 

Reconnect to old friends

That friend from college you used to have so much fun with, the friend you used to visit concerts with: simply send them a message and suggest to meet them over a cup of coffee. You'll know soon enough whether you guys still click. It might be a one time thing and yet it might be the start of a renewed friendship. Why not give it a try?

Don't focus on quantity

If you have just moved to a new town, you've broken up with your boyfriend or girlfriend or you're feeling lonely for another reason, there might be times when any form of company seems to be a relief. Try to keep in mind what you're looking for, though. Friendships only add something to your life if you really connect to people. Besides, you don't need to have tons of friends - quality is much more important than quantity. 

Get out of your comfort zone

If you're the kind of person who keeps balancing off their possibilities ('on the one hand... but on the other hand...'), dare yourself to say 'yes' to all appointments and events that pop up in your life for a while. Join your colleagues for a drink after work, even if you're tired or not sure whether they'd like you to join. Just go, and see what happens. 

Take it easy

Making new friends is like finding a new love: if you try too hard, it won't work. If you act like someone is your new best friend after just a couple of weeks, you might startle them. Take the time to know eachother, and don't aim too high. Go with the flow. Intend to meet new, fun people, not to find your new best BFF - friendships, like relationships, need time to grow.

Photo by Omar Lopez

Why we should embrace our mistakes - not just because we learn from them

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Sure, we’re only human, so we make mistakes. We all know that. So why do we prevent ourselves from making them? Kathryn Schulz advocates making mistakes – and embracing them. 

How does it feel to make a mistake? ‘Embarrassing’, some people in Kathryn Schulz’s audience say. ‘Unpleasant’, others say. But wait, says Schulz in her TED Talk – that’s not an answer to this question. It’s knowing you’re making a mistake that feels unpleasant – making the mistake itself usually makes you feel fine, because at the time, you usually don’t know you’re making it. We’re like Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, running off a cliff: it’s not until he looks down, he knows he’s going to fall. Until that moment, he doesn’t have a clue. 

Convinced you’re right? That’s risky

Making mistakes without knowing it, feels like everything’s just going like it should. Unknowingly being wrong feels like being right. And that’s risky, says Schulz, who studied making mistakes for years and calls herself a ‘wrongologist’ now. People who are convinced of being right, can make very stupid choices, and they don’t care about criticism. The person who criticizes their point of view just doesn’t know a thing about the matter, or they are stupid, or even malicious. 

Doubt makes life more exciting

But once you start realizing that you just might be wrong, you make room for doubt. You’re open to the complexity of the world. And it makes life much more exciting, according to Schulz. We all see things differently, we can’t all be right all the time. That’s a good thing, because: ‘The whole idea of being human is that we experience things differently. The miracle of the mind is that we can see things the way they aren’t. Not just the present, but also the past and the future.’

Photo: Victor Dueñas Teixeira



Read this if you find it difficult to ask for help

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Could you help me with this? It’s a simple question that can be very hard to ask. Heavy domestic chores, a complicated project at work, getting lost in a foreign city: it’s all a lot easier with a little help. And you can get it, if you ask for it.

Many of us tend to think for someone else. We think they probably don’t feel like giving a hand, they’re probably busy, or there’s another reason why they can’t or won’t help us. And imagine they feel obligated to do so, or –even worse- say no… It would make you feel like an idiot, right? 

But why? Friends, acquaintances and colleagues –even strangers, by the way- are much more likely to help you than you might think. You may see your request as a burden; for them, it may be a compliment and a proof of confidence. Admitting that you can’t do it all by yourself, can give more depth to your relationships. 

These tips will help you to ask for help like a pro: 

Explain why you ask for it

The word ‘because’ can make a lot of difference. Don’t just ask ‘Could you go and get some groceries?’ but: ‘Could you go and get the groceries, because I have to prepare dinner and I’m short of time’. This way, you legitimate your question, which makes it easier for yourself. And if you explain why you need help, people are more likely to actually assist. This tip supposedly even works if your ‘because’ doesn’t actually make sense…

Be attentive yourself

Make it into a habit to help others, without asking for something in return. Don’t do it to make sure you have some ‘credit’ with them, but simply because it makes you feel good. Of course, you don’t have to do your colleague’s job for them or coordinate your neighbor’s entire relocation – don’t exaggerate – just try to do little things for others every once in a while. Offer to give them feedback on a project plan, make sure there’s coffee once all the boxes are out of the moving truck. Helping others makes you feel less burdened if you need someone to support you. 

Put your questions in perspective 

Turn the situation around and imagine someone would ask for your help. No doubt, you’ve recently held the door open for someone or cleaned the dishwasher because they asked you to. How did you feel about that? Annoyed? Forced? Overcharged? Probably not. I bet you didn’t think twice about it and it made you feel good. Why wouldn’t it work the same way for others? 

Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo: Hao Ji

This is how your family influences you and your relationships

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Why your family is always present in your life - even if you don't see them anymore. 

Ah, family. You live your own life, but they are always in the background, even if you rarely see the, even if you don’t know them or don’t want to know them anymore. They are there, self-evidently, or they are self-evidently not there. And, no doubt, it influences the way you live your life. But how does that work exactly?

We play the roles of father and daughter

My dad and I didn’t have regular contact until I was 21 years old, and still, it doesn’t occur to him that I might need him, not spontaneously.

The key words are 'spontaneously’, here. We play the roles of father and daughter, and sometimes it seems real. But self-evident? No, it never is. Every once in a while, we forget about each other’s existence. Simply because we’re busy with other things.

He’s still your dad

By the way, as a child, I felt very normal. I didn’t miss out on anything. At the same time, I always felt like I had to defend myself. Why? In ‘complete’ families things weren’t all fun and games, were they?

When I was in my twenties, I lived in Paris for a while. I had a Dutch friend there whose father was a drinker. She had to pick him up from the pub drunk, again and again, him whining in her arms that he really loved her. What a mess.

‘Yeah well,’ she said acquiescing, and then she spoke the words I never forgot, because they are still the wisest thing I ever heard anyone say about this matter: ‘He is still my dad. And there’s only one of him. It is what it is, you deal with it.’

You deal with it

At the same time, there is an aspect to family that makes me tend to avoid the topic. If I’m truly honest, I think: I did miss out on something as a child. For instance all the times I lied awake when I had to do hold a speech at school.

You deal with it. In another situation you would have done the same. But how would that have turned out? Would I have made different choices? Had different relationships? Sometimes I feel like telling my dad alla bout it. If he had just been there, my life would have been different. I would have been a better person. Much better! 

There is an end date for reproach

There is an end date for reproaching your parents how your life went, said J.K. Rowling – because even Harry Potter is about the role and influence of family. It’s not about what it could have been like, but about how you relate to what it ís like. That’s difficult. But it also means you keep getting new chances to look at the relationship. As you move on your time line, your perspective on your parents and grandparents changes.

A father who didn’t help out when you had to speech at school, turns out to be a good help when you have to give a lecture, simply because he turns out to have a self-evident faith in you. And for some reason, it compensates for all his absence you didn’t even know you felt.

What do you pass on?

Then the wheel turns again. You have your own family now, and you are on the other side of the line. What do you pass on?

My children do have a father, one who was always there and cooked and took them to soccer games, so in the cosmic wheel of things, that’s a great step forward. And there’s something beautiful about that. That every time, there’s a new round, and that each round is a bit better. Or not. But eat least there’s always a new generation taking over. You do the best you can to pass on something good. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t. But they deal wit hit, the way you dealt wit hit.

What do I inherit from my dad, I wondered recently, apart from the blue eyes and a load of books? Perhaps it’s this: being able to accept you make mistakes, and being willing to fill the holes where you dropped some stitches. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson you learn in the family school: being kind towards your parents makes you kinder towards yourself.

Text: Anne Wesseling - Photo: Tim Mossholder

Boost your confidence - and six other ways to become even prettier

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Alright, so maybe looks are equally important as inner beauty, but where do we draw the line?  How essential is that expensive cream really, or those leather shoes while you just donated money to an animal protection organization? It's time for a makeover of the seven beauty ideals.

1.     Be grateful

Gratitude is a more potent beautifier than any cream on earth. Pausing to consider the miracle of your body will smooth out all the wrinkles of dissatisfaction. Be grateful for how your organs digest your food, how your muscles take you where you need to go, and how your mind, eyes and heart enable you to be in touch with the world. You could almost trip over your body – it is that close – so don’t take it for granted, even if it doesn’t always exactly do what you want.

2.     Be eco-fabulous

Being pretty at the expense of something or someone else is obviously not great. Choose products that are made with respect for humans, animals and nature.

3.     Experiment

The best way to find a balance between your so-called outer and inner appearance is by regularly going to extremes in one or the other. Give yourself a crew cut. Send a week meditating in the same jogging pants. Attend a party in a killer outfit. You are guaranteed to learn a few new steps in the tango of form and content.

4.     Boost your confidence

Self-confidence was beauty tip number one, psychologist Dr. Vivian Diller discovered in her study into what makes women beautiful from the inside. As a former top model, she could confirm this from personal experience: ‘Early on I learned that being the prettiest doesn’t determine the success of a model, because everyone was beautiful. Being perfect wouldn’t do it either, because nobody was perfect. Your success was determined by your behavior and confidence.

5.     Focus on what you have

Here’s another tip from Dr. Diller, taken from her book Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change (highly recommended, incidentally). You may tend to be upset by the parts of your body you don’t like, but the key to confidence is to put emphasis on what you do like. Do you have good posture? Beautiful hair, radiant eyes? Build your outfits around them and focus on those parts. N.B. this also works in all other areas of life.

6.     Behave stylishly, even when you’re alone

One of my teachers emphasizes the importance of stylish behavior, even when being alone. To me, this was a life-changing lesson. Can you behave with as much dignity when you’re lying on the couch in a onesie as when you’re attending a posh dinner? How much self-respect do you show when you’re in the toilet? Act stylishly at all times, and see how it makes you feel.

7.     Like inwards, like outwards

This is the ultimate beauty tip. Approach your look with all the noble qualities that you also use for you inner hygiene: kindness, respect, creativity and compassion. Treat your skin, your heart, your home and your hair with the same joyful appreciation.

Text: Geertje Couwenbergh - Photo: Caroline Hernandez

The five best life lessons we learned from legendary TV chef Julia Stiles

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The kitchen is the place for many activities – not just for cooking. You can experiment all you want to – learning to control your fear of failure while stirring in pots and pans. And most of all: the kitchen is the place to have fun. Five life lessons from TV chef Julia Child. 

The kitchen is the place for many activities – not just for cooking. You can experiment all you want to – learning to control your fear of failure while stirring in pots and pans. And most of all: the kitchen is the place to have fun. Five life lessons from TV chef Julia Child. 

I, myself, come from a long line of women who thought eating was a waste of time, and often said things like ‘I wish there was a pill I could take every night, that contained everything I needed’ (my mom) or the sighed ‘what to eat tonight?’ (my grandma). For survival, our family has been dependent on men who knew how to handle a dipper and a skimmer. Oh, well, we had other talents. 

‘You need an awful lot of onions!’

Still, I love reading the books written by Julia Child (1912-2004) and since I rewatched the movie Julie and Julia with my daughter, I’m a true fan. Whenever my writing doesn’t go the way I want it to, I watch historical clips on YouTube with Julia. Julia stirring an onion soup (‘You just need an awful lot of onions!’) or hammering into a chicken (‘we’re doing some cosmetic surgery on the chicken’). And it works. Every time. 

Because what Julia makes you understand, is that cooking is much more than just preparing food. Cooking is about using your senses, about the art of living. Accepting a challenge without thinking twice, developing your preferences, understanding new techniques so you can experiment with them – and most of all, enjoying what you’ve prepared together. Julia Child’s quotes are worth printing, painting on a placemat and putting on the wall. Five lessons from ‘The French Chef’. 

1. ‘Find something you’re passionate about and remain tremendously interested in it.’ 

Julia Child was 37 when she discovered her passion for cooking. Too late? Not at all. Just start doing something that appeals to you, learn about it, discover new stuff. And prepare for a life long learning. ‘You’ll never know everything about something, especially if it’s something you love.’ And that’s fine, because the more you know, the more you’re able to create. ‘There is no end to imagination in the kitchen.’ 

2. ‘Be fearless and above all: have fun!’ 

Fantastic cooks aren’t born. To be a great chef, you need to love good quality ingredients, work hard and really love to make something, to create. Julia’s advice was always: ‘Learn to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all: have fun.’ 

3. ‘The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.’ 

Fear of failure is the only thing that can stop you from learning to cook. ‘If you’re afraid of failing, you’ll never earn to cook,’ Julia Child said in one of the episodes of The French Chef. ‘Cooking means one failure following the other, and that’s how you learn.’ Isn’t cooking like life itself? 

4. Did you fail? ‘Don’t apologize!’ 

If your dish doesn’t turn out as pretty as you had in mind, don’t go out of your way to apologize (‘What a disaster!’ or ‘I always fail’). Don’t emphasize the things that didn’t work out. Your guests don’t want to keep reassuring you. So just act like nothing’s wrong. ‘Maybe the cat fell in the stew, the lettuce is frozen, or the cake collapsed – eh bien, tant pis!’. Most of the time, your dish won’t be all that bad, and if it’s really horrible – just smile!

5. ‘If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.’ 

I love this piece of advice. Cook with flair, and don’t make a fuss about some grams of fat. It’s not about that. Use great ingredients, eat with attention and joy. Enjoying your food means eating healthy. Eating disorders don’t exist in Julia’s universe: ‘Life itself is the proper binge,’ was her wise conclusion. Feast on life!

Dishes and memories 

One of the lessons Julia learned during her stay in Paris (where she learned to cook at the famous cooking school Le Cordon Bleu), is that you won’t forget a dish you made. Making something special isn’t just fun, it also brings memories. Julia quotes one of her teachers, chef Bugnard: ‘You never forget something beautiful you made. Even after you ate it, it’ll stay with you.’ 

I never thought of it that way, but it’s so true. I remember the duck I helped a friend prepare at New Year’s Eve in a French house in the woods, the gumglotters and pluche nuche from Roald Dahl’s cookbook I made with the kids when they were little. The first time I made mayonnaise myself (a miracle!) during the holidays in France. For someone like me, who always says she’s a ‘horrible cook’, that means something. 

Water, butter and flour

I bought Julia Child’s ‘The art of cooking’, and it hits close to home. Julia doesn’t just explain what you need to do, she elaborates about techniques and why one thing works and the other doesn’t. I love all that. The creations you can make with simple ingredients like water, butter and flour!

So why would we think of cooking as a nasty chore? This afternoon, I’m making eclairs with my daughter, just for fun. According to Julia, it’s easy peasy, and if we fail – tant pis. We’ll learn that lesson, no matter what. 

Bon appétit!

Text: Anne Wesseling - Photo: Alyson McPhee

Is your son or daughter an indigo child? This is how you guide them in life

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Indigo children are very sensitive: they feel, see, hear or know more than other children their age. How do you make sure a special child like yours taps into their power?

Psychologists and astrologists say indigo children prepare us for a new society, the new age, in which spiritual values are more and more important. These sensitive children see the world intuitively, and they are drawn to the spiritual. Some of them even see auras or angels, and they come up with astonishing insights.


From a young age, they strive for unity and harmony. Indigo children are less focused on themselves, they feel like they’re one with the world and with others. They often sense how other people are feeling and are very empathetic.


Do you recognize a lot of these qualities in yourself? Perhaps you’re an indigo parent: a sensitive adult, who has grown up in a time when there was less room for intuition and emotion.

Are you a parent to an indigo child? 5 tips

TIP 1:

Make sure there is ‘time to settle’: time to process new impressions. Indigo children need time to be outside. Away from the noise of the city is where they find their peace.

TIP 2:

Teach your child to visualize, to help them protect themselves in difficult situations. If he or she knows how to imagine there’s an egg of light around them, or a protective cloak, a magical girdle, a hedge of roses or a glass wall.

TIP 3:

Introduce them to meditation or yoga. Meditation can help them to distance themselves and process all stimuli.

TIP 4:

An indigo child has a hard time with lies and deceit, so it’s important to be honest and open.

TIP 5:

Make sure they have a creative outlet. Indigo children are often very visual and extremely creative. If you give them the time and space to discover their creativity, they’ll develop unique ideas and discover remarkable things.

Photo: Roberto Sanches Carvalho

Feeling down? This is why changing your thoughts can make you feel better

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When someone has been feeling down for a while, we say: he or she is feeling depressed. But according to the founding fathers of cognitive therapy, we might just as well say they are thinking themselves depressed. The way we think has a big influence on or emotional wellbeing. 

Distinguishing thoughts from reality

When young psychiatrist David Burns heard one of his teachers say ‘thinking differently leads to feeling differently’, he thought to himself: ‘that’s bullsh**.’ But the more patients he treated, the more he found out the truth in that quote. Even patients who were so depressed they didn’t want to live anymore, started feeling better when they learned how to distinguish their thoughts from reality. A woman with a severe depression he treated, was convinced her life had been worthless – until she made a simple list of her achievements. It opened her eyes. 

Burns wanted to help more people than he could see in real life, so he wrote the book Feeling Good – which became a huge best seller and made cognitive therapy a wide known, successful form of therapy. These days, it’s one of the most used treatments for depression. 

The power of thoughts

Did Burns find his treatment useful in his own life? In his TED Talk, he tells about the birth of his son. The young boy couldn’t breathe, so his breathing had to be stimulated artificially. Burns was in complete distress. He thought: no matter what I have been taught, this situation is so severe, it’s not about what I think

Yet, when he started writing down his thoughts, he discovered that even in this severe situation, his thoughts hadn’t been realistic. In his mind, he was thinking years ahead – convinced the future of his son was doomed, until he realised: I have to stop predicting the future and just be there for my son. The power of thoughts had proven to be just as strong for Burns as for his patients. 

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Action Vance


How to recognize a toxic friend: 9 warning signs your friendship isn't good for you

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If you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, it’s hard to imagine your life without them. However, it’s wise to take a close look at your friendship every once in a while. Does it still help you grow? 

If your friend stopped listening 

Sure, you’re willing to listen to their stories about the nagging new colleague, difficult family situation or physical discomfort. But if they hardly respond to the things you tell them, or immediately relate everything to themselves (no, my relationship isn’t exactly the same as yours), it might be time for change. Friendships have to be two-way streets. 

If they’re not there for you

Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes and there’s nothing wrong with friends you simply watch movies with or go to the gym with. But the best friends should be there for you. If they’re not, you might wonder what use the friendship is to you. 

If you feel relieved or tired after they’ve left

This is probably the #1 sign that something’s off in your friendship: if you’re happy they’re leaving again. One thing’s for sure: this friendship only costs you energy, it doesn’t give you any. 

If you fight over the most ridiculous things

Fighting doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Just like in a relationship, the occasional explosion can clear the air. But this only happens when a fight is about something substantial. If you guys keep fussing about little things, all this negativity gets under your skin. 

If your friend can’t handle criticism 

Some people are sensitive. There’s nothing wrong with keeping that and mind and being careful with criticism. But in the end, good friends need to be able to tell eachother they are making a mistake – simply because they wish the best for eachother. 

If they can’t keep a secret 

‘Oh, by the way, me and that other friend talked about your relationship trouble.’ Wait a minute – did she just talk about this sensitive issue with someone else? Good friends know when to keep things a secret. 

If they don’t care about your family and other friends

Good friends care about you, and want to know about your background. If they meet your friends and family, they want to get to know them, because they are important to you too. If they don’t, they may be jealous or they simply don’t care. Which isn’t a good sign. 

If they don’t pay for things

It may seem like a small thing, but admit it: it does get annoying if your friend’s a cheapskate. (Of course, if they’re having money issues, it’s different. Although it’s always unpleasant if they keep letting you pay all the bills or ‘forgetting’ to pay you back). 

If they judge you

There are a few important elements in every friendship, and respect is probably the most important one. How can one ever feel safe with a friend if they don’t respect them? Many unpleasant aspects of a friendships are surmountable (no one is perfect), but this one means code red. 

Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Greg Raines

What's your love style, and does it match your partner's love style?

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Do you love being surprised with love letters or red roses, but does your partner keep getting you domestic gifts, because they’re so ‘handy’? Or do you get jealous when they want to go to the pub with their friends again? 

Just because your partner has different priorities, doesn’t mean the end of the relationship is near. It does mean the two of you have a different love style. 

The 6 love styles 

According to American sociologist Terry Hatkoff, there are 6 different love styles. Each style represents a different outlook on love. You can find out your style here.

1. Romantic 

Love, to the romantic type, is based on passion and sexual attraction. 

2. Best friends 

If this is your love style, you look for deep affection. The feelings you have for your partner, are comparable to the feelings you have for your best friends. 

3. Logical

No matter how deeply in love you are, if your love style is the logical one, practical considerations are important for you. You prefer to share your life with someone who has the same values, beliefs or financial goals. 

4. Playful

Is your love style playful? Then you love to flirt and to be challenged by your partner. 

5. Possessive

A relationship in which the two of you lead your own lives? You’d rather not, if you have a possessive love style. You get jealous easily and your feelings for your loved one can even be a bit obsessive. 

6. Selfless

A selfless love style means you want to take care of your partner. You tend to put your own feelings and desires aside. 

Combined love styles

Usually, ones personal love style is a combination of two or three styles. Your dominant love style may be romantic, yet you find it important that your partner has the same plans and vision of the future. Or you’re looking for an unconditional buddy (best friend) with whom you can have adventures and whom you can take care of (selfless). That way, your partner may love to flirt, yet be extremely jealous if you do the same thing. 

Interesting! But what does it matter? 

Knowing what your love styles are, can be helpful to prevent arguments and learn to understand eachother better. If you know your partner has a logical love style, you also know they don’t just do all these chores around the house: they’re a gesture of love. Once your partner knows you’re a romantic, they may not see the next candle lit diner as ‘too much’, but appreciate it because it’s your way to show how important your relationship is to you.  

Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo: Everton Vila