Perhaps one of the most universal qualities of all worldviews is the belief that both love and compassion are necessary to live a good life. Of all the individual traits of the Universal Values, this is probably the most important one to build upon and the one that you should never be fully satisfied with—the search for love and humanity is a lifelong journey. Even if a one's life is marred by a myriad of other faults, it seems that it would not be a life a totally wasted if that person found and fostered love.

Now matter how well it is admired throughout the world, this trait is also a source of bitterness among many, many people. The reason for this is that having love for someone also means making yourself more vulnerable and open to them, and for this reason many people have been especially hurt by those they loved. The problem with closing yourself to love is that this "solution" means closing your whole mind and body and never opening them again; you are closing yourself to the most meaningful experiences that human life has to offer.

The trick, then, is to be open to love without leaving yourself open to total devastation at the whims of other imperfect beings. The only way to do this is to learn to be wise in your relationships; learn to be open to loving others without giving up the love you have for yourself; shut out all forms of bitterness; and to learn to respect and admire the human race as a whole, never hoping for perfection and recognizing the imperfection in yourself.

One of my favorite definitions for love comes from a strange source. In the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein, love is defined as this (to paraphrase): sincerely caring for someone else's well being. While you've probably heard of hundreds of different definitions for what love means, this is probably a good benchmark to start with that about everyone can agree with. So when you question your love for someone, a good question is: am I sincerely caring about this person's well being? Or, am I concerned solely for my own needs, or what I want from this person? All healthy relationships need to be reciprocal, and love is the most fulfilling vehicle for reciprocation! If you keep on asking yourself these hard questions about your relationships and honestly answering them, you are bound to correct some of your failures in love and over time become a more loving person indeed.

Another important task in building love and maintaining healthy relationships is showing your love—this needs to be done in words and actions. By the standard up above, failing to show your love to others has to be a failure in your concern for the other's well being as you are withholding it to cope with your own fear or to manipulate that person for your own designs. You cannot love someone if you do not let that person know by what you say and what you do. Showing love is also part of the habit of kindness, which is talked about in the section for that trait.

Love is also a key motivation for being a good person in all areas of morality. Think about it: if a virtue has anything to do with protecting or helping others, then caring about the well being of others is a key component to succeeding in improving that virtue. People make mistakes, and making mistakes certainly doesn't exclude you from having love toward the people you've hurt, but every failure to treat others well is in some way a failure in love. Simply focusing on love alone won't give you the discipline needed to be great toward others, but it is a necessary foundation.

Here are some ideas that might help you become a more loving person:


  • Get Rid of Your Bitterness: Avoiding bitterness doesn't mean you have to be a naïve person who proceeds in relationships with no caution. In fact, I advocate that you do remain cautious about who you trust and depend upon. Bitterness, however, is just the negative version of caution used by those who don't have the self-control to avoid being taken advantage of without these darker feelings. Bitterness works, in this sense, because if you are filled with bitterness and hate toward a person you'll likely not be "fooled" or hurt by him or her again. The problem with this scenario is, however, is that you will continuously be hurt by the bitterness you harbor for that one instance of bad behavior that you are trying to avoid. It is possible to take care of yourself and have a heart free of resentment. Whenever you feel bitter feelings toward someone else, try to see their behavior for what it is: the tragic failure of an imperfect human being. Try to understand the motivations behind everyone that hurts you, and whenever you begin to focus on these hurt feelings try to redirect your mind in the same way you would avoid anger: count backwards from twenty, do something you enjoy, get some exercise, etc.
  • Take an Active Interest in All Sorts of Different People: Do some research and learn about the philosophical and religious beliefs of people that are different from you. Meet these people when possible. Enjoy their art and media. Try to empathize with everyone you learn about—without advocating their own poor behavior. Caring about how other people live and feel is a precursor to caring about their well-being.
  • Try to Actively Forgive Other People: Giving up bitterness is essential, but if that person who hurt you is also feeling pain from their separation from you, being active in your forgiveness can be a great exercise in caring about someone else's well-being whether they deserve it or not. Call these people up or send a note, if you think they might want to hear from you. You can either let them know you forgive them, or, you can simply offer a part of your friendship back to them. You don't have to open yourself again to anyone who will hurt you, and you don't have to leave where you left off or even see him or her in person (if not necessary). You might get rejected, but if you come into it with the right attitude you can avoid letting a negative response hurt you (or you can stop reading or hang up on a vitriolic reply).
  • Express Your Love More: Tell a person you love them, if appropriate, or simply tell them how much you appreciate them. Give people thank you notes. Think of creative (not necessarily expensive) gifts you can surprise people with. Taking the time to be creative in your expression can make an expression much more meaningful.
  • Be More Affectionate: If your relationship is appropriate for affection, try to actively spend more time physically expressing your love. Just like the simple act of smiling more can make you happier and walking faster can make you more energetic, being more affectionate can increase your love for a person. This doesn't mean you have to be awkward, clingy, or inappropriate, but this does mean that you increase all the physical contact that is appropriate (when appropriate).
  • Do Volunteer Work: Giving up time for others is a great exercise to build your love for humanity. You can also help people you know in ways you usually wouldn't make the time for.
  • Be Conscious of Your Attention and Body Language: This is a good social skill in general, but actively listening to others more and asking back-up questions, along with the act of looking them in the eyes a little more often, will help you feel a stronger connection to people (and they to you).
  • Evaluate Your Behavior in Friendships: Think about your relationship with all your friends. Do you make enough time for them? Do you show them kindness and consideration? Do you know what is going on in their lives, and do you sincerely care about them? Find your faults or failures in love and try to improve upon them.

Your Record

Any time you actively bring someone else down for your own benefit should be marked as a "fault" for the day. Note that sometimes other people will fall when you succeed (getting a job, for instance, sometimes means that someone else loses theirs), but there is rarely a need to actively hurt someone else to gain success. Whenever you manipulate someone else's emotions or well-being for your own gain is a fault for the day. Whenever you expect things from people that you refuse to reciprocate is a fault in your love. When focusing on this virtue, use some of the activities above as a guide toward making goals, and mark yourself at fault when you fail to achieve them.


From Ideologies Around the World:

When a man loves his brother for sake of Allah, he should tell him that he loves him.

Abu Dawud, an Islamic scripture recognized by Sunni Muslims

It is in love that religion exists and not in ceremony-in the pure and sincere love in the heart.

Swami Vivekananda, Hindi founder of the Ramakrishna Mission

As he thinks in his heart, so he is.

Jewish Proverb

Not for the sake of my own well-being I practice universal benevolence; but I love benevolence, because it is my desire to contribute to the happiness of living beings.

Guatama Buddha, Founder of Buddhism

We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Scholar, Philosopher, and Critic of Religion

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Paul, Apostle and Early Founder of Christianity (Christian Bible, Romans 13:8-9)

Golden Mean

Hatred, indifference
Obsessive, possessive love

Recommended Reading

Love: What Life Is All About — by Leo F. Buscaglia

This book argues that love is the most important aspect of life, and that you should face life and other people with open arms.

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate — by Gary Chapman

This is a good guide to improving the love and happiness in your marriage. It is partly based on the concept that love is a choice that is made, not just something that happens.

A General Theory of Love — by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon

This book covers the scientific knowledge about love, and how humans are social animals.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Everybody forgets the basic thing; people are not going to love you unless you love them. Pat Carroll