By Armin A. Zadeh, MD, PhD
Can love be learned? In principle, yes, but there are several important requirements. Love necessitates a positive, embracing view of ourselves and of life. Fromm claimed that only a person who has reached developmental maturity is truly capable of loving. Such maturity implies self-acceptance and overcoming narcissism. Love requires humility. We are not truly concerned with the happiness and well-being of somebody else if we perceive ourselves as superior. Finally, love requires awareness and sensitivity to recognize the needs of the beloved for attaining well-being and happiness.
Like mastering any art, learning to love takes concentration, discipline and patience. The principle of the art of love is actually quite easy: all we need to do is avoid egotistic impulses and remain focused on loving thoughts and activities. We should view ourselves not as separate from others but rather as part of humanity, a part of life.
In practice, maintaining a constant focus on love is exceedingly difficult. Try it for five minutes and see. For just five minutes, monitor the thoughts or impulses that arise in your mind. Try to keep your focus on somebody or something you love. What has your partner or child done today? Is there something you can do to make their day a little better? What do they like? Have you said something nice to them lately?
Whenever your thoughts stray away from your focus on loving, notice it. Did you think about the football game later today? The errands you have to run? Your job? Going out with friends? Assess whether your thoughts are self-serving or loving, that is, directed at the well-being and happiness of somebody else.
You will probably find that it is very hard to maintain this focus even for this short time. When we realize that mastering the art of loving requires maintaining a focus on love for every waking minute of our day, it becomes very clear what kind of challenge it is.
The practice of rejecting egotistic impulses in favor of loving is known to be effective for attaining happiness. Some devout followers of religions that teach similar precepts have achieved a state of deep contentment. In other words, if we manage to maintain control of our self-serving impulses and concentrate on love, we will achieve happiness. Guaranteed.
Think about this for a moment. There is a proven, guaranteed way to attain lasting happiness. Something anybody can achieve. No tricks. Why isn’t everybody lining up for this? Because the process is hard. All major successes in life are earned the hard way.
We have a choice. At any given time, we can set our priorities. We can spend most of our lives focusing on our job to achieve what society defines as success, and maybe we will find some satisfaction. Maybe. Or we can spend our time developing our focus on love, and we will surely attain happiness. Seems like an easy choice. It also means that anybody truly wanting to achieve happiness can do so. We just have to put the effort into it.
Contentment results from the way our mind processes thoughts, actions and events. The same event may elicit very different responses in people. For example, let’s imagine two drivers getting rear-ended in their cars. One jumps out screaming in anger over his damaged property, while the other expresses gratitude that nobody got hurt. A missed putt on a golf course may appear to one person as a personal failure, while another laughs about it as bad luck. We can perceive the same events, and our whole lives, as wonderful or dreadful—it’s our choice. If we want to perceive it as wonderful, however, we may need to work at it
Armin A. Zadeh, MD, PhD, is the author of The Forgotten Art of Love. He is a professor at Johns Hopkins University with doctoral degrees in medicine and philosophy as well as a Master’s Degree in public health. As a cardiologist and a scientist, Dr. Zadeh knows, from first-hand experience, about the close relationship between heart disease and the state of the mind. Visit .
Excerpted from the book The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters. Copyright ©2017 by Armin A. Zadeh. Printed with permission from New World Library, www.newworldlibrary.com.