What Is Love?

February 4, 2014

Love is a very complex word.  It is used all the time – and is one of the most researched key words on the internet – but what does “love” actually mean, and why do we only have one word for so many different feelings?

Love can be beautiful.  It can warm your heart and make life worth living.  Loving without reciprocation can also be that catalyst that sends you spiraling into gloom and misery.  Love can be thrown to the wind, hoping it lands somewhere great.  Or, it can be kept close to your heart and only let out to peek at the open sky every now and again. We all share and receive love in our own unique way.

There are many types of love: Parents’ love for their children; the love of a father for the mother of his children; the love of a child for his or her parents; grandparent love; lusty, sexy love; the love of a man and woman who are celebrating a half-century of marital union; and, love for many of our pets, neighbors, friends and co-workers.love

How is it that, in the English language, there is only one word used to describe this wide panoply of feelings?  Is it the relative sameness of the physiology of love (i.e. the totality of the chemicals, electrical impulses, and other physical effects brought about by love (or is it vice versa ?)) that strands us with only one word for so many different modes of the feeling ‘love”? It seems absurd and probably could use a redo.

It has not always been this way.  Way back in the days of the ancients (mostly ancient Greece), all the various emotions that our culture now labels as “love” were not categorized under a one-word umbrella.  Instead, they had several variations on this theme, including:

  • Philia a deep, but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members, or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle.
  • Ludusa playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.
  • Pragmathe mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practicing goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.
  • Agape – a more generalized love, which is not about exclusivity, but about love for all of humanity. Agape was used for the love in a “spiritual” sense.  This love is selfless; it gives and expects nothing in return.  (Agape was used by early Christians to express the unconditional love of God.)
  • Philautia – self-love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. 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.
  • Storge – which means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.
  • Eros – used for sexual passion and desire. Eros does not appreciate the balance of logic and is found everywhere there is a claim of “love at first sight”.  Unless eros morphs into another brand of love, eros will burn itself out.  In other words, eros is a love for a short-term only.

We all have the basic human need to experience love in its myriad forms as both the giver and the receiver.  What so many people seem to miss, however, is that experiencing the various forms of love is best accomplished by having loving relationships (not necessarily love of the romantic brand!) outside of your spouse and children (if you have any).

I have seen over the years that this “putting all your love in one basket” approach can be devastating when your spouse disappoints you with his or her lack of love-skills. This is why friends, extended family and community are so important.  External relationships (to be distinguished from tawdry affairs!), which are built on the types of love that are not necessarily strong within the marriage due to personalities, emotional limitations, and even time constraints, help to balance the marital relationship by taking the pressure off the spouses to be their partner’s “everything”.

As the famous psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in his classic book, The Art of Loving (1956):

“. . . love is not merely a feeling but is also actions, and that in fact, the “feeling” of love is superficial in comparison to one’s commitment to love via a series of loving actions over time.” 

Fromm also described love as a conscious choice that, in its early stages, might originate as an involuntary feeling, but which then later no longer depends on those feelings, but rather depends only on conscious commitment.  This is the transference of “eros” to some of the other forms of love that were so artfully referred to by our predecessors as unique and often independent forms of love.

Love is something that you cannot have too much of – especially considering the wide variety of loving feelings that we are able to experience as human beings. Also, there are different times in our lives when different types of love will be dominant, while others recede (often temporarily) into the background. There are shifts, too, in our capacity, willingness and desire to love and be loved as we have children, get older, find ourselves going through divorce, form new relationships, rekindle old relationships, change our outlook, engage in therapy, and make determinations to forge new, loving relationships when there may have been a previous void.

“Love,” said Erich Fromm, “is the only satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”   Go for it.

And now, a musical interlude:

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


What Happy People Do Differently

November 12, 2013

“One of life’s sharpest paradoxes is that the key to satisfaction is doing things that are risky, uncomfortable, and downright unhappy!”

group-of-happy-people-2            The question “How can I be happy?” is a source of continuous pondering and countless research studies.  One of the latest compilations and statistical analysis of data on this topic appeared in the August 2013 issue of Psychology Today, “What Happy People Do Differently” (by Todd B. Kashdan, George Mason University and Robert Biswas-Diener, author of The Courage Quotient).

The pursuit of happiness is a billion dollar industry, and for good reason.  In a recent study by Ed Diener (University of Illinois) and Shieghiro Oishi (University of Virginia)—that included a whopping 10,000+ participants, from 48 countries—Diener and Oishi concluded that being happy ranks higher, as a desirable personal outcome, than other “old fashioned” measures of well-being, such as: feeling that you have true meaning in your life, finding your way to prosperity, and even getting into heaven!

Happiness is a State of Mind (not just an emotion)

            The authors of this Psychology Today article assume, like most contemporary psychologists, that true happiness is more than a mere emotion – it is, instead, a state of mind.  As such, happiness can be cultivated by intentional and strategic acts and thoughts, much like changing a habit.

In other words, only a small portion of what most of us consider “happiness” has to do with how we feel at any given moment.  Instead, the sense of being a “happy person” has to do with a person’s cognitive reflections, expectations, ideals, and acceptance of what you cannot change”.

40% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change.

— Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of CA, Riverside

            Most striking is Diener and Oishi’s finding that the unique habits of those that are happiest in life point toward engagement in activities that lead people to feel uncertain, discomforted, and even guilty!  “Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downright unhappy.”


            “Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like.  It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Happy people are, simply put, curious”.

Happy people tend not to view being uncomfortable and vulnerable as the end of the world.  Instead, they see such feelings as temporary and a sure-fire way to becoming stronger and wiser.  “Curious people, it seems, invest in activities that cause them discomfort as a springboard to higher psychological peaks”. (Based on a 2007 study by Todd B. Kashdan, George Mason University and Michael Stegger, Colorado State Psychologist).

Blissfully Inattentive

            I have always thought that teenage boys are some of the happiest people on the planet.  Now I know why!  Your chances of being happy are greater when you are somewhat “out of it”!

Happy people tend not to pick apart other people and situations.  They are less skeptical than their more unhappy counterparts. The most bliss-filled among us tend, also, to be uncritically open toward strangers and may even appear naïve. (Based on a study led by Joseph Forgas (University of New South Wales)).

Happy folks are less likely to be analytical and detail-oriented. Depressed people, however, are more likely to reflect on and process (over and over again) their experiences – for which they pay a big emotional price. (Paul Andrews, Virginia Commonwealth University).

At school, work, and in relationships, too, the happiest among us, say Oishi and Diener, are not the A students, the best performers on the job, or the individuals who strive for smooth sailing in their relationships.  Strict expectations of ourselves or others do not, apparently, bode well for a happy state of being.

“Sweating the details seems to be a job for the miserable . . . and they better get to it . . . because all of the happy people already went home!”

Be a Cheerleader 

            The happiest people among us are the ones who are present when things go right (not just wrong) for others.  This is because we are actually buoyed by others’ good fortunes.  After all, don’t we all know that two positives make a positive?

“When romantic partners fail to make a big deal out of each other’s success, the couple is more likely to break up.  On the flipside, when partners celebrate each other’s accomplishments, they’re more likely to be satisfied and committed to their relationships, enjoying greater love and happiness”.

                  — Shelly Gable, University of California, Santa Barbara

Feelings as Radar

            The most psychologically healthy people recognize that “emotions serve as excellent feedback – an internal radar system providing information about what’s happening (and about to happen) in our social world”.  (Kashdan and Biswas-Diener) Hiding from negative emotions is not where it’s at, in terms of attaining and sustaining a sense of well-being.  Instead, acknowledging emotions and being able to intuitively utilize that information to better your situation (as opposed to allowing those same emotions to exhaust you), and balancing your emotional reaction, depending on the circumstances, is what will put you on the fast track to developing positive happiness habits.

Thick Skin

            Happy people tend to be pretty thick-skinned.  Though some people are born this way, even the thin-skinned among us can learn to toughen up a bit.  The authors of this article suggest that those of us with thin skin should practice simply tolerating an emotionally challenging feeling for a little bit. No judgment.  No acting out. No numbing. No ramping up. Just deal with it.  Over time, your ability to withstand day-to-day negative emotions will expand and, since you cannot avoid them, your “skin will thicken” and you will have the emotional energy to shift it to the positive!

Balancing Pleasure with Purpose

People who are happiest, says Steger, tend to be “superior at sacrificing short-term pleasures when there is a good opportunity to make progress toward what they aspire to become in life”.

Further, making advances toward achievement of our goals causes us to feel more engaged while, at the same time, helps us tolerate any negative emotions that arise on the journey. (Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin, Madison).

Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.

                                                               – Eleanor Roosevelt

Posted by Elizabeth Revell, Mediation Assistant and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

The Emotional Stages of Divorce

November 22, 2011

Everyone reacts differently to divorce. Most people, however, go through similar stages, much like grief. Just like after the death of a loved one, it is common to move back and forth between the stages. The tough part for the divorce mediator is that client-couples are rarely in the same stage at the same time.
When one party is ready to “get down to business”, while the other party is an emotional mess, it is the mediators job to slow the “ready” party down and allow the other party to catch up a little bit. It is important for both the husband and the wife to be able to keep up with the facts, information, proposals, etc., and to make sure that they are not too emotionally unstable to negotiate effectively.

Cathy Meyer, About.com Divorce News Editor, lists 6 emotional stages of divorce:

• Denial
• Shock
• Rollercoaster
• Bargaining
• Letting go
• Acceptance

For more detail about each stage please visit her article http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/copingandemotialissue/f/stagesofgreif.htm

%d bloggers like this: