Defining What Love Is
“Love” is a beautiful feeling but it is also a powerful tool. Like all good things there are many cheap imitations, from the true 24k platonic version to gold-plated 10k imitations of love. The term love is loosely used in today’s culture, thus it is important to be well grounded in what it is and what it isn’t. But how does one describe what love is in simple terms? Part of the definition of what love is, and how it functions in us, is psychological in nature whilst other aspects are best explained by chemical reactions in the brain. But even before taking a scientific route there is something more useful to set a baseline of what love is, and this comes from scripture. Herewith a brief excerpt explaining love from a poetic and theological vantage point. The famous love chapter in scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, reads:
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The above are the conditions which must be true if there is true love. Anything different is just cheap gold-plated 10k versions of this beautiful human emotion. The reality is that true love is rare but we can take great joy in that we have the “Gold Standard” of what perfect love is, similarly from scripture:
“for He so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so whoever should believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life”.
With basic definitions aside now we delve into the objective of this blog which is to explain how love can improve our lives and those of others. And no, we don’t have to be a neuroscientist nor psychologist to apply these principles.
We generally acknowledge that love does not exist in humans alone. There is vast record of the love between an elephant mother and its calf, an emotion so strong that it surpasses other emotions such as joy, anger, grief, and compassion. Similar behavior can be observed in other wild species such as whales and kangaroos with their offspring. Much more common forms of love are the relationships between us and our pets, especially dogs. Pet owners can attest to the bonds with our four legged friends, which definitely are reciprocal in nature. That said, human love is at the top of creation. For one it is very nuanced, there’s not just one type of love. Love is like an ocean, with varying depths, currents, water temperatures, engulfing many aspects of our lives within its depths. I also suspect that our ability to love is second to nothing in creation because we are tripartite, that is, mind, body, and spirit unlike any other creature. Now let’s move towards practical applications of how we can leverage love for personal development.
At its core we should endeavor to use love to build up others even before thinking about us. There is a saying that it is better to give than to receive. Let me give a simple example. My twin boys joined a cross-country running team recently and as part of preparing for races they have to train 6 days a week. There is speed training, on other days they have weight training sessions and at least once or twice a week they perform their long-runs. Most of the days they train with their teammates but there are days, especially weekends, where I join them in the training to incentivize them but also to strengthen our relationship. I run with them because I love them, not because I am a gifted runner or because I am working towards running any type of race. Those days and dreaming of a marathon are on hold until I have knee surgery, topic for another day. My running now is solely to motivate my sons which I do out of love, in a sense, it is my fuel for performing these activities. Anyone who has run knows how much a gel, or sports-drink, or energy drink is useful in running for longer or faster. If it was not for love, I would not have the drive and energy to run with them.
Yet another dimension of leveraging love for good works is in regards to leadership. My premise is that leading with love is the utmost effective way to lead, be it your home or your business. Within the vast literature on leadership you will find a style which is intractably linked to love, this is the concept of the Servant Leader. The definition of this approach of leadership entails a style of leading which focuses on the growth and well-being of others. Sounds very familiar with the type of leadership that is in scripture, i.e., “I came to serve, not to be served”. Why would Jesus practice this type of leadership when there are so many others? I conjecture that it is because sacrificial leadership is the most impactful and effective. It is precisely about what the Google definition states, is it about promoting the growth and well-being of others. I believe we should strive for practicing this style of leadership at a minimum in our home. If you also apply these guiding principles in your professional endeavors, you will not only be a great professional, but you will have the honor of being called a great leader.
I wrote in my Greatness blog that working to be better than average in your personal life will require significant work. Greatness is not something you develop overnight, it will take “grit”, which researchers summarize as consistency of interest and perseverance of effort. Loving what you do will help you in particular with perseverance of effort. Besides being simply poetic there are chemical reactions in the brain which explain why love is a powerful potion. Apparently, being in love liberates higher levels of dopamine in the brain, which in turn gives a pleasurable experience similar to the one experienced by cocaine and alcohol (which I am not suggesting you consume). What is even more interesting is that in studies of successful individuals, scientists have found evidence that there is a positive correlation to increased levels of dopamine. Apparently some of the characteristics of higher dopamine individuals include increased motivation as well increased novelty-seeking, amongst a number of interesting traits. The simple observation is that if you truly love that which you practice, you might be a recipient of higher levels of chemicals such as dopamine that can provide a tailwind on your path to greatness.
Yet another benefit from love is with regards to health. We intuitively know that love feels good hence probably not surprised to hear there is research which supports this speculation. For instance, research at the University of Texas at Austin has found that love can:
- Increase life expectancy
- Maintain a healthy heart
- Reduce depression
- Keep the doctor away
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease anxiety
- Reduce stress levels
- Ease acute or chronic pain
- Help your gut
- Improve your sleep.
With so many benefits stemming from love or being in love with something, do not pursue activities solely for money because you cannot fill a void in your soul with twenty dollar bills. The worst advice, whilst with good intentions, is to suggest a career path for our children thinking only about financials. Maybe you heard growing up, be a doctor or a lawyer if you want money. Whilst partially true maybe, what virtue is there in feeling void or uninspired in your practice purely to get a few dollars. I believe we would be more effective as parents if we help grow the talents of our children in that which they love.
Indeed, love is a great tool that can help us and others around us, in so many ways.
Many of us, including myself, enjoy guiding principles, lists of items we can extract for action. As such, I capture here what I call the “love principles” for your benefit:
- There is nothing greater than love
- Love can be used for building up others around you
- A servant leader is one rooted in love
- Love increases grit, i.e., perseverance of effort and consistency of interest
- Love is healthy for you