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The other night, I was comforting a distressed friend over the phone who was feeling completely unbalanced by her current relationship.
After slowly, cautiously opening her heart over the last five months to a guy who seemed like a really good fit, suddenly, it all went to sh*t, transforming overnight into the same toxic cycle that has played out in her life over and over again.
We can all relate to that endlessly repeating roller coaster.
So we started talking about the cycle, why it keeps repeating. She said she just loves too much, she’s wired to be in a relationship, and it’s hard to feel happy when she’s not loving someone. She loves showering affection on a partner, giving little gifts, doing nice things for him—basically, making him happy, making him feel loved.
So, I asked her more about how she feels when she’s in a relationship—why does that make her happy? After a bit of digging, we reached the root of her conundrum: making another person happy feels like an inherently good act. Somehow, it seems like it’s unquestionably good to increase another person’s happiness.
I completely agreed with her. “Yes, it is an inherently good act to make a person feel happy.”
Then I added, “You are a person too. It is an inherently good act to make yourself feel happy. Making yourself happy brings just as much goodness into the world as making a partner happy.”
Her response was a joking, “Oh f*ck you,” in the sense that I was saying something intrinsically opposed to her sense of self-worth.
There is a theme in our culture that suggests the happiness of others has more inherent value than our own happiness. This is especially true for women, who are taught from an early age, the importance of being doting wives and mothers, of pleasing the patriarchy at the expense of their own needs.
And while it certainly is true that increasing the happiness of another person is a good act, it is equally true that increasing our own happiness is just as good. The net result is the same; the happiness of one person is increased, which increases the total happiness of the world.
But then she told me she has been trying to make herself happy; she went on a shopping spree for herself, buying art supplies, good food, chocolate—all that self-care bullsh*t that’s supposed to make her happy, but she was still feeling like sh*t.
This is another indoctrination drilled into us by our culture: that buying crap is the best way to make ourselves (or another person) happy.
When we do nice things and shower gifts on another person, it’s not the gifts that make them happy—feeling loved makes them happy.
That’s what the self-care market gets wrong—coconut oil and bath bombs are a nice little treat for ourselves, but they can’t fill our hearts. Only love can do that.
It is an inherently good act to make a person feel loved.
And yes—you are a person too.
Therefore, it is an inherently good act to make yourself feel loved.
Loving yourself brings just as much good into this world as loving a partner, a child, or a friend.
Taking that further, loving yourself makes you better able to love others because you can freely give love without needing to be loved in return. Yes, it feels good to be loved by another. But when we depend on that love, it becomes…codependence.
Sharon Salzberg sums it up, “Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves becomes a loss of boundaries, codependency, and a painful and fruitless search for intimacy.”
In a sense, loving ourselves is one of the most beneficial actions we can take to make the world a better place. Because when we love ourselves, then we can freely, selflessly give back to the world.
It’s similar to the emergency procedures in a plane that instruct us to place the oxygen masks on ourselves first, before attending to a child. If we try to love others without first loving ourselves, we’re going to crash and burn.
She still wasn’t fully buying it. She asked if loving herself could actually feel as good as loving another person.
Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes”—because I have recently been learning to love myself, to feel my heart swell with that same sense of love, the same physio-emotional sensation that occurs at the start of a new infatuation. Except with self-love, it feels balanced, not overwhelming.
We’ve been taught, we’ve been trained, that loving another person is more fulfilling than loving ourselves.
That is an outright lie.
We can love ourselves just as intensely as another person. We can fill our hearts to bursting with love for ourselves and feel complete, feel fulfilled.
And with our hearts full, we can selflessly help the world.
I still don’t think my friend bought it. So at the end of the call, I asked her to take five minutes the next morning and try loving herself. “Do it for me,” I implored her, “It would make me happy if you try, just try, to love yourself for five minutes in the morning.”
I told her a simplified maitri practice—to sit in meditation, place her hands on her heart, and repeat to herself, “May I be happy, maybe I be healthy, may I be filled with love.” (Or to figure out a few phrases that resonate with her heart.)
She grudgingly agreed to give it a try. We’ll see how it goes.
Watch a video on this topic here!