What do you think of when you hear the word, “love”? Lovers entwined in a passionate embrace? The joy and fulfillment of finding your soul mate? Or perhaps you recall the feelings you have for your children, your parents, or your friends.
All of these experiences of love have one thing in common: they’re dependent on another person. Don’t get me wrong, loving relationships are great, but we all know that relationships change and basing our happiness and love on other people isn’t the wisest choice. But what if you could experience a love that didn’t depend on anything outside you?
What if you could love for no reason at all?
That was the question I set out to answer when I started writing my most recent book, Love for No Reason. What I found in my research is that though we talk about love in so many ways—I love my family. I love my pets. I love to shop. I love to eat. I love to help others. I love to watch television or read a book—all of our experiences of love fall into one of four distinct categories along what I call the Love Continuum.
The following diagram illustrates the complete spectrum of love:
No Love: In this state our hearts are shut down; we’re in pain or feel angry or sad or may experience profound exhaustion. Feelings of fear and anxiety, which are hallmarks of No Love, often trigger the fight-or-flight response in us. The state of No Love is devoid of everything that makes life worth living.
Love for Bad Reason: This type of love isn’t actually love at all. It’s really just No Love on painkillers. Love for Bad Reason is primarily concerned with “being loved” to fill a void inside ourselves. It isn’t about appreciation or true caring; it’s about trying to escape or ease our emptiness. Codependency falls into this category. People who are co-dependent get swallowed up in the lives of others in an effort to fill the vacuum inside themselves. They want to please the other person…in order to get love back.
Love for Good Reason: This is what most people understand as love. It’s when you deeply appreciate or feel connected to certain people, situations, or even material objects. You feel inspired to contribute to others and are able to both give and receive.
This type of love is healthy and strengthens you, but it does have some limitations. The main one is that it’s linked to reasons—and if those reasons change, your love usually changes too. When you love for good reason, you may also feel attached, jealous, afraid of losing the object of your love, or you may feel satisfied but still sense there’s something missing. Love for Good Reason can come and go. Fortunately, there’s another level of love beyond this.
Love for No Reason: This is Higher Love, an inner state of pure love that doesn’t depend on other people, external conditions, or circumstances. It’s a love we experience from the inside out.
My guess is that you’ve had glimpses of this state—I call them “peak love experiences”— when your heart was open and flowing, when you didn’t need anyone or anything to be different, when you felt a strong sense of well-being and that all was well.
To experience how Love for No Reason differs from Love for Good Reason, try this simple exercise:
1. Close your eyes and think of someone or something you love. It can be a person, a pet, a place, or an experience.
2. What do you love about him, her, or it? Appreciate all of the wonderful qualities you love about that person or thing. Let yourself savor the object of your love.
3. Ask yourself an unusual question, one that most people never consider: Where does this love come from? What’s causing me to have this wonderful experience? The vast majority of people will answer that the love they feel is directly caused by the object of love they’re thinking about. This is the experience of Love for Good Reason.
4. Now try something different. Switch your focus from the beloved to the experience of love itself. Put your attention on your heart and feel your appreciation independent of your thoughts about the object of your love. Instead of thinking of the qualities of the person or thing, let yourself really feel the love you have inside for whatever it is that you chose.
5. Be with that inner experience of love. You may feel warmth in the center of your chest and/or find yourself smiling.
The difference between these two experiences of love is that the second one doesn’t depend on the object of your love. It may be hard to grasp that love can be a stand-alone experience. We think “it takes two to tango.” We love something; we don’t just love. But when you love for no reason, you can fill your own love tank. Then you bring love to your outer experiences, rather than try to extract love from them—which I guarantee makes tangoing a whole lot more fun and fulfilling!
About Marci Shimoff: Based on the NY Times bestseller Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love (Free Press, 2010) which offers a breakthrough approach to experiencing a lasting state of unconditional love—the key to lasting joy and fulfillment in life. Marci is also author of the NY Times bestseller Happy for No Reason and co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul series. To order Love for No Reason and get the bonus gift package free, go to www.TheLoveBook.com and follow Marci on Facebook @ MarciShimoffFan.