I was walking my dog the other day while listening to music when my attention got caught by the lyrics of a song: “… I’m a happy dreamer, I believe in love …”. In that moment I realized that I’ve always been the kind of person who believes in love, who looks for it in many things, who strives for self-love. My wish is to share this view with you because I feel and have experienced that love and the connection that comes with it are the antidotes to unhappiness, loneliness, and even depression.
# What is love and what do we love?
Let’s begin with the definition of love. Most of us, when we think of it, we think of romantic or parental love. We have a limited view of love and thus our actions will follow it: they drive us to find that special person in the world that would love us, or we seek to establish a family and have children to love.
Even before we learn to give love to ourselves, we are ready to give it away to someone else!
As I see it, the quest for love starts with finding me, with feeling at home within myself. It goes on with growing a healthy and comforting way of self-love as a grounding point to connect with myself and, later, with others.
The problem is that very often we ignore our own needs, and we focus on impressing and being the best selves for others to like us, we want to be lovable. On rare occasions are we in touch with what we need, may that be related to our bodies, minds, or hearts. Thus, part of my idea of finding and cultivating self-love is to have a deeper insight into my needs and to give those a generous place in my life.
Cultivating self-love means also knowing who I am, how I came up to be like this. It means to see value in both positive and negative experiences of my life, without judging them as good or bad. Often I meet people who did not receive enough love and attention as they were children, and who continue to neglect themselves similarly.
My question to them is: why not offer yourself that love you deserve and didn’t get? What makes you think you are not worthy just because your parents didn’t know any better? The answer cannot be because they don’t know how to do it, since I’ve experienced that most become great partners and loving parents!
#Extend the definition of love
While we are learning to give ourselves love, we should also practice extending the definition of love. Often our happiness is a matter of focus. When all we want is to find the right person for us and we don't succeed, we are unhappy. By extending the definition of love it will be easier to direct our focus to positive emotions, to recognize love more easily and in different other contexts, outside the relational one. Take this exercise I completed in a training:
Write 150 Love words.
As long as the list might sound, it was not so difficult to complete. For me, extending the definition of love is to include words such as care, joy, proud, sharing, nature, happiness, friends, kids, emotions (all kinds), sun, people, clouds, freedom, intimacy, books, home, food, rainbow, my dog, experiences, art, siblings, asking and giving help, humanity, self-expression, coffee, warmth, cooking, kiss, music, poems …
If you’d extend your love list to 150, what words would you come up with?
# About standing in love
Another thing is that once we found love, we take it for granted. We think that love will stay in our lives and we stop our efforts to “standing in love”, as Eric Fromm wrote in his book “The art of love“.
It was actually a quote from Alain de Botton’s book that made me think about it: “We have allowed our love stories to end way too early. We seem to know far too much about how the love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue“.Although he refers to romantic love, of course, we can extend the idea to all our relationships (friends, neighbors, colleagues, strangers) and even to nature and art. If we want to stand in love, we must recognize it from its tiniest form (a ray of sunshine on our face, a beautiful painting, your dog greeting you, the smile of a stranger), to the deepest, long-lasting form (with your partner, family members, kids), and to actively seek and create such moments in our lives.
Fromm suggests to treat love as an art. He means, as in any art, learning the theoretical part, doing the practical work, and most importantly, prioritizing it ahead of other things such as accumulating goods, success, or prestige, since most people invest more energy in achieving those, instead of investing in loving.
#Not allowing love to turn into resentment
If through different life events or because we grew apart, we lose the affection of that special person, we often turn love into resentment, indifference, or hate. We block that person out of our lives, we completely forget the happiness from where it all started and instead, we let ourselves get caught in the negative feelings of the ending. Once we cannot control the other person to do and feel what we want, we turn away and leave, in search for another love-giving person. And this is not always fair.
Not even then, we don’t give ourselves the time to just be on our own, to find out who we really are, and to question ourselves what are we looking for, because we cannot stand the loneliness.
I believe that to make the most out of love means to get rid of our resentments and negative feelings towards others while taking time to heal our hearts. For sure, there will be people in our lives who will hurt us, or even turn against us. As difficult as this might sound, there is always a good part in it, a part that can strengthen us, that will teach us to be more assertive, to set limits, to stand up for ourselves. In those cases, in time, love most probably can transform into compassion, empathy, or friendship. The moment we stay in resentment, the others will win. When someone asks me how to behave with a person they are breaking up with, I tell them to think about a vision of the kind of relationship that is most healthy and that serves them well, and to let their actions follow this vision.
So, what do love and depression have to do with each other? I believe that unhappiness creeps in when there is not enough love and connection in our lives, with ourselves or with others, when we limit our view of love. We cannot control if someone loves us, but we can learn to grow self-love and the love we choose to give. We can choose to create it in small moments, as much as in big moments. We can intentionally and constantly fight for love in our lives.
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