What is love?
You, probably: Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.
But really, what is it? It’s an overwhelming, at points ineffable feeling you feel. People have tried to define love, and mostly they don’t describe it properly. Or they describe just one aspect of it. I’m not going to describe it perfectly here either, I know that. But regardless, love remains a huge part of our lives, and it’s a subject I’m very interested in. It plays a huge part in our lives. The most magical moment in my past relationships has always been when my partner said they loved me for the first time. I imagine it was something similar for them.
Again, what is it? It’s a bit of give and take. It’s a mixture of desire, pleasure, security, and loyalty, but that doesn’t sum it up completely. It transcends words. Love takes on so many forms, and unfortunately for the English-speaking parts of the world, we only have one word for it. The fact that we have so many definitions and manifestations of a single emotion muddies the water for us when we try to define it. Sure, adding qualifiers like the Greeks did helps; it gives us a few concepts like eros (erotic love), philia (platonic/brotherly love), ludus (playful/young love), agape (selfless love (more on this later)), pragma (longstanding love), and philautia (self-love, and even this one had more types), but even then there are more types of love. To put a finite definition on an infinite concept would drastically reduce the power the concept has. It feels cheap to put shackling definitions on it. But we’re going to talk about it and its importance in our lives.
When it comes to living a good life, there has to be a quantity of love in it. No good life is lived without love. Nobody every lived a good life without ever loving something.
Claude Debussy, a famous composer who wrote some incredibly beautiful music back in the late 19th century, had many failed relationships. It seems to others that he was incapable of having a stable personal life because he would often be very fleeting with his feelings. Mary Garden, who knew Claude Debussy, once said of him:
I honestly don’t know if Debussy ever loved anybody really. He loved his music — and perhaps himself.
Loving a person is not the only expression of love we know as humans. Love of creation, art, ideas, concepts, that’s not captured by the Greeks. Feeling a love of your work is something I even feel. Everyone you look up to loves their work. You probably love your work, but it’s not the same love as loving your significant other. But the underlying ideas are the same. Hear me out.
When you love something, doesn’t matter what it is, you feel some form of devotion to it. It’s important to you, you identify strongly with that thing, be it a person, your work, your pet, or an idea. You want that thing to be the best it can be. Part of that is self-serving. You want it to be the best for you, but you also want to mold yourself to be the best for it. So in love, there’s a sense of striving to be better. True love, that is. I’m sure we can all thing of a situation where complacency slips in under the surface, but that’s not a love that’s exhilarating. That’s a declining love. Love should be strong, it should grip you, it should make you say “this is the best thing ever” when you’re with it, and you should think about it when you’re not with it.
The idea that you should strive to be better for the thing you love is an important one. It’s about growing to serve the thing you love. So what about yourself? Loving yourself is important to living a good life, isn’t it? How can you love anyone if you don’t love yourself?
This late in the game, I come through with my true intention: self-love is one of the keys to living a good life.
Some big questions come up. How can you love yourself? Do you have to like yourself first? Well, honestly you don’t exactly have to like yourself to love yourself. If you don’t like yourself, but want to be a better person, congratulations you’re on the path to liking yourself through loving yourself.
What’s involved with self-love? It’s not all bubble baths and chocolate. It’s about knowing yourself, being honest with yourself, and becoming disciplined enough to keep pushing yourself forward.
Knowing yourself, and understanding your limits, both physical and mental, is a great place to start. You need a baseline of your current situation in order to improve. Watch your thoughts, learn to trust your instincts. Your body speaks to you, and to embrace self-love, you’ve got to be in dialogue with yourself. When you want to go that extra mile but your body is telling you not to, it’s okay to listen and take a break. No person is a superhero. We need breaks, so when you feel the urge to stop for a while, stop. But get back into whatever you took a break from eventually.
Be honest with yourself. Just like you’d be honest with your partner. If you don’t like something you’re doing, or don’t like how you think about a certain thing, it’s okay to tell yourself that. It’s even better if you will yourself to change and act on it. You are who you choose to be, and you can change if you want to. Trust that you know what you need, and get it, but don’t be afraid to call yourself out on your own dumbness. If you’re out late and you want to text your ex because you miss them, maybe reconsider that choice. If you’re honest with yourself, you’d know that it wouldn’t be a good idea, and that short term hope of getting their attention isn’t worth the sorrow you’ll feel when they, or you, inevitably get upset.
Lastly, disciplining yourself to keep moving forward. I know discipline is one of the least sexy words out there. When we think of discipline we think of military formations and rigidity. It’s really not that bad. Discipline stems from the previous two things: self-knowledge and honesty. Loving yourself means making choices that are good for you. Building a daily meditation habit, for example, is a form of discipline if you push yourself to do it every day. Even if you don’t want to, or don’t want to make the time for it, you know it’s got good effects on your body and mind so you push ahead and do it. Eating well, exercise, whatever the habit is, if you build good habits and maintain the discipline to keep practicing those good habits, you eventually won’t have to spend as much willpower on building them.
You’ve got to continue to move forward, because being active in ensuring you live a good life is really the only way you can achieve it. Loving yourself enough to be honest with yourself, and to push yourself forward, and to really know and understand yourself will ultimately end with you actually liking the result.
You’re with yourself for your entire life. How miserable would it be if you didn’t like yourself for that time? Imagine. Eighty-something years of being disgusted at the meat sack you inhabit just meandering through life making the same choices as everyone else because “it’s just the thing people do” does not sound fun. But if you’re honest with yourself and you work on yourself and constantly strive to understand yourself, it’s more than likely that you won’t be bored with yourself, and you’ll be actively loving yourself, and you’ll always be there for you through the ups and downs.
Choose love, and be active in making yourself better.