What is love?

What is love?

The question, “What is love?” may seem a simple question but if you ponder it deeply there are layers of meaning which may lead you straight down the proverbial rabbit hole.  While Wikipedia will tell you it is a song recorded by Trinidadian-German Eurodance artist Haddaway, I invite you to spend a minute or two coming up with your own definition.  (No really, take a pause and try…)  You will discover it’s not so easy to define.  The question, What is love? has intrigued and confounded humanity throughout the ages.  When even defining love is difficult, it is not surprising we have so much trouble consistently experiencing love throughout our lives.

When it comes to love we often don’t think to invest in learning more about it until things go wrong.  Most often our education focuses on accumulating knowledge from a logical, analytical standpoint rather than learning about matters of the heart.   As a species we know more than we ever have yet we still know so little about how to generate more love.  Human beings have learnt how to explore beyond the outer edges of our galaxy, millions of light years away.  Scientists created the World Wide Web so that they could instantly share scientific knowledge such as the composition of dark matter…yet the one thing that gives human beings the best quality of life, the most longevity, and the most happiness is love.  Imagine if we invested all that learning energy into generating more love.


How we learn to love

Without the right knowledge and skills we are left to wonder, What is love?  What is love?, is one of the top rated google searches about love.  We simply find it baffling at times, we just don’t know.  Given love is a feeling that is the pinnacle of all human emotional experiences, why is it so tricky to pin down?  There seems to be a mass delusion that we should just know what love is when we find it rather than understanding it is an emotion that we can work to cultivate more of in our daily lives.

Our education on love starts as soon as we leave the womb.  Our parents and caregivers provide us with a model of what love is and, as children, we don’t question this.  Developmentally we have no capacity to ask the complex question, “Is this love?”, and our very survival depends on our caregivers so we must trust them.  We simply assume that what we experience is love and this forms a template for our experiences of love and relationships in later life.  We go on to repeat unconscious relational patterns unless we are fortunate enough to stumble upon partners who teach us a better template for love. Or we understand the need to learn more about love and read a dazzling array of competing advice.  Even when we are conscious of our patterns, we often find them frustratingly difficult to change.

If this is the case for you, you are not alone.  Based on attachment theory approximately 50% of the world’s population receive a relational template that is adequate to experience love in a comfortable and secure way.  That leaves 50% of the population struggling with love.  But despite how it may feel in the early stages, love is not some magical and elusive experience that we simply stumble across.  Love is a feeling that can be identified within the body, and we can use our minds to generate more of it.  If we know how to.


The Buddhists know a thing or two about love

While I trained as a clinical counsellor and psychotherapist the most formative part of my education was studying with Buddhist monks and nuns in practices on love and compassion.  I studied with them every week for four years, learning texts by rote and sitting in meditation to generate love and compassion for hours every week.  After a couple of years of studying, I was asked to teach.  It was a great privilege and one of the highlights of my life to be able to teach people to experience more love and compassion in their own lives.  Quite clearly, I am not a monk or nun but I was asked to teach other lay people (in the Buddhist traditions non-ordained people are referred to as lay people) because it was seen that I had something that the monks and nuns didn’t – I was in relationship, and as a wife and mother my life was geared around relationships.  While Buddhists have a system for generating more love, thankfully you do not need to shave your head and put on a robe to learn it.

After two decades of teaching and counselling thousands of people I found at the heart of most human problems is a need for more love.  Whether it is more appreciation at work, a need to feel better about ourselves, difficulty interacting with friends, family and intimate partners, love holds the key.  But if our template is mistaken, incomplete, unclear and confusing we continue to struggle in the dark.

I propose that we need a roadmap to experience more love.  If love is the ultimate destination, like any destination of choice, you need to know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, what you’re going to need, and how to overcome challenges along the way.  This is the stuff that I regularly work through with clients in session so that they can get a clearer understanding of what love is, what it feels like to receive it, what it feels like to give it, and the skills they need to cultivate more of it.

So, “What is love?” I hear you say.  Clearly it is a tricky one.  If you’ve managed to come up with your own definition I’d love for you to post in the comments.  Stay tuned as we explore more about love in the coming weeks…


  1. Mrs Carol Hughes

    ‘A tricky question’, indeed, and most thought-provoking. When my husband and I were married, some 50+ years ago, the Minister who married us gifted us the New Testament with a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, and strangely enough I have been prompted to look at this reading often over recent weeks. It is a wonderful description of what love is and what love is not, and of course, as a Christian, I think of Jesus as love personified. But I also think of other people in a similar light, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale – because of their selfless dedication to and love of their fellow human beings. I believe love is a feeling, (especially when we fall ‘in love’); it is a spiritual gift, but it is also a physical act of caring for our fellow human beings, sometimes when it is certainly something we do not want to do!

    • Amy Islip

      Excellent reflections Carol. Thankyou. I think it’s helpful to think of love as a feeling, love as a spiritual practice and love as an action.


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