What is Love?
Love is not one thing
There are different definitions, ideas and countless thoughts when it comes to love. Here are some of ours:
Love is not a feeling. Or better, love is not just a feeling. Yes, many of us know love as having an intense or deep affection for someone else – be it romantically with a partner or towards a family member, friend, or even stranger.
However, love is more than just a feeling!
While there may be more, for now we will narrow it down to the
5 pillars of love:
The feeling of love you have towards your partner, family members, friends, or even strangers – this can also mean feelings of empathy, pity, or just a deep connection you feel for that person.
Love also means doing something for someone else. It is – in our opinion – probably the most important pillar of love, because it means you are doing something for someone else – even though it may not be what you want, and you might not even have feelings of love for that person.
Love is something you do for someone else's or your own well-being. Love is an action. It requires effort.
Saying I love you is easy. Showing that you love someone is much harder.
In an ideal world, love helps you and the people you love grow – be it through challenging, supporting, or even pushing someone else or yourself. Growing is the “process of developing physically, mentally, or spiritually.“
Love also means service. Service to someone you love. It is somewhat similar to action, because service usually means doing something for someone else (in an ideal world, without asking anything in return).
This is a vital part of love, because it helps us understand situations from different perspectives. Therefore, instead of anger or resentment towards someone else, we might be able to show compassion and even offer help once we have seen the situation through someone else's eyes. A lot of interpersonal problems and difficulties are because of mis-understanding, and not being able (or not wanting to) see the other person's perspective.
Because love means some, or all of the above (if not more), we will not have the definition on love, but rather give you several important statements, examples, and ideas. See and try out for yourself what resonates with you and what doesn't.
Let's look at a few, very basic examples that show what love can be.
- When you come home after having a terrible day, and even though you're upset, tired and just want to be left alone, you still make dinner for your family and listen to them complain about their day.
That is love
- When you're out with your friends and you're having a great time, but one of your friends doesn't feel well and wants to go home, and even though you're enjoying yourself, you take your friend home and make sure they are okay.
That is love
- When you see someone carrying a heavy bag, and you offer to carry it for them, even though that person lives far away from where you are going.
That is love
- When you hit a loved one because you were angry, and even though you feel ashamed and embarrassed, you find help to deal with your anger, so you can learn to better control yourself next time.
That is love
M. Scott Peck defines love like this:
"The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth"
(We will discuss M. Scott Peck's ideas at some point as well!)
Love can be hard and requires courage
While there certainly are feelings of love towards certain people and things in our lives – such as our partners, family and friends, or even our interests and passions – being loving is actually a choice. It is something we choose over something else.
And more times than not we have to put our own wants and needs aside and choose to do something for someone else. Or something that we know we need to do for ourselves, but don't want to. And that can be hard. Very hard!
You realize you need a break and want to stop working for a while. Your partner understands and starts working extra shifts to bring home enough money.
Your best friend is always saying bad things to their other friends, who are too afraid to say something. One day you tell your best friend about how their behavior is hurting other people's feelings. Standing up to people requires courage – especially when they are your best friend.
It’s cold and all you want to do is stay home, but your brother doesn’t feel well and wants you to take a walk with him so he can feel better.
Your partner wants to move to a new town, because they are really unhappy where they are now. Even though you might not want to move, you do it anyway.
These are just a few examples, and there are obviously small and big things you can do for others and vice versa. There’s also a difference between putting your own wants and needs aside for a while, and completely ignoring them. Self-love and taking care of yourself is equally important (more about that here).
The point is that going out of your way to do something for someone else is an act of love. Especially when it requires effort and goes against your current wants and needs. Telling your partner you love them when they are sick is nice, but driving half an hour to a pharmacy in the middle of the night to get medication to make them feel better – even though you have to go to work a few hours later – is the real challenge and shows how much you really love them.
Love is also understanding
Someone walks past you in the street, bumps into you, yells at you for standing in his way, turns around and walks away. You get upset and your first thought is: “What an idiot!”
But then you follow that person and ask him why he is so angry. And you find out he has just lost his job, or his daughter has cancer, or he is just not feeling well.
Now you feel less upset, because you understand why he acted like that. It doesn't necessarily excuse his behavior, but at least you know the reason. You may even feel sympathetic towards him and offer him your help.
Understanding is a big part of love. And understanding is not the same as agreeing. You don’t have to agree with someone’s ideas or point of views, but you can still understand them. And once you understand them, understand where they are coming from or why they feel a certain way, love begins.
It sounds simple enough, right? But think about how often you disagree with someone, or don’t like someone or something they do. Or even hate them. But have you ever actually thought about why they think or behave a certain way? Have you ever asked them or tried to find out the reason behind it all?
Because in most cases conflicts can be solved by learning to understand the other person. Not always, but most of the time.
Whether or not there are bad people is another question, but most people who seem to be bad, are that way for a reason.
Maybe the alcoholic in your family or neighborhood became an alcoholic because they were abused and mistreated when they were a child?
Maybe your colleague or a person in your class is so withdrawn and rude, because they suffer from a mental disorder or social anxiety?
Maybe your partner is so clingy because they lost their parents at a young age and now suffer from separation anxiety?
“This doesn’t give them an excuse to act any way they want!” No, it certainly doesn’t. But it can help YOU understand WHY this person acts this way. Once you’ve understood the reason behind the behavior, you are not only less upset (because, after all, it’s not really their fault, is it?), but you have a better idea of how to help that person (if that is what you want and if it’s even possible).
In other words: understanding is like a bridge you build between yourself and someone else, so you can walk across and see the other side. Reallysee the other side. You don’t have to like the other side, and you can go straight back to your side, but you have at least seen it.
Love as best as you can
No one can be loving all the time. Even great and influential people like Jesus, Muhammad,Buddha, Krishna, and others, needed time to eat, sleep and take care of themselves. The goal is also not necessarily to love, understand, and do everything for everyone. Furthermore, the goal is not to never make mistakes.
The goal is simply to understand what love actually is: a feeling of intense and deep affection for someone, but also something you do for someone you love – sometimes against your own wants and needs. In addition, another big part of love is understanding another person’s point of view.
“What should I do now?”
Well, you try to incorporate love and being loving into your daily life. With your partner, your family and friends, as well as strangers. Little by little, step by step. As much as you can. And don’t worry if you can’t be loving all the time. We understand how tough it can be and are here to help you!