There are so many ways to feel and express love. We love our children in one way, our spouse in another and our friends and families in still other ways. Beyond that, love itself has an undeniable healing energy.

what is love?

In 2012, the Guardian online  revealed that the question, “What is Love?” was the most asked question on search engines. In an attempt to answer the question, the paper asked a physicist, a psychotherapist, a philosopher, a romantic novelist and a nun to define love.

The psychotherapist pointed out that ancient societies didn’t lump all forms of love together in one word:

•    Philia was a non-sexual form of love between family members and close friends
•    Pragma was the bond of love that develops over time
•    Ludus was a playful form of love like flirting or fooling around with friends
•    Agape was universal love
•    Philautia was love for one’s self, but not selfish love.
•    Eros was sexual love. It doesn’t last unless “it morphs into philia or pragma.”

The nun’s definition of love struck a chord with us, too. It “seems remote until we encounter it enfleshed, so to say, in the life of another – in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice” she said, and went on to say it was “life’s greatest blessing.”

A Psychology Today article, What is Love, and What Isn’t? explores love in depth.  “Love is a force of nature,” the article begins, and goes on to say what love isn’t. “Love is not a substance, not a commodity, nor even a marketable power source” and:

•     “Love does not come with conditions, stipulations, addenda, or codes. Like the sun, love radiates independently of our fears and desires.”
•    “One can buy loyalty, companionship, attention, perhaps even compassion, but love itself cannot be bought.”
•    “Love cannot be turned on as a reward. It cannot be turned off as a punishment.”

So what does that leave us with? “Love cares what becomes of you because love knows that we are all interconnected. Love is inherently compassionate and empathic. Love knows that the “other” is also oneself. This is the true nature of love and love itself can not be manipulated or restrained. Love honors the sovereignty of each soul. Love is its own law.”

Love doesn’t require grand gestures. A kind word, a small act of generosity or the impulse to give rather than take can light up another’s life. A small act of love is its own reward.

While loving others is admirable, too often we forget to love ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t reach our full potential and share our love with others. As the psychotherapist replied to the Guardian’s question: “As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself.”

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