“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu
February is the month of love. Although statistics vary, between $140 and $190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, a number that excludes the untold number of cards school children exchange. In addition to cards, Americans spend an average of $131 per person on chocolate, flowers, jewelry, unique gifts and special dates expressing undying love for a special person.
But what is this thing called love?
According to VIA Institute on Character, a non-profit, positive psychology organization and the heart, soul, and home of the VIA Strengths Survey, the strength of love is exemplified most often by those who value close relationships with others, especially when there is a mutuality of sharing and caring in the relationship. This definition reflects what most already know: Love is not just about romance. Love may be felt as an attachment such as that which we feel towards a parent or child, it may be expressed through a selfless expression of kindness towards those around us, and it can be felt in deep friendships, a “companionate love.”
Another way to look at this character strength, is to consider how we most like to express it. In The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts the author Gary Chapman suggests that we each have our own ideal “language” for expressing love, falling into one of five categories: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical affection. Our particular love language is the one that is most likely to fill up our love “tank” and is the one we are most likely to use when expressing love to others. However, if someone uses a different love language, it likely falls on deaf ears (or a closed heart). When someone speaks a different language from our own, it doesn’t feel like “love” to us and it doesn’t fill up our tank. Chapman’s recommendation, then, is to become aware of the love languages of loved ones – and your own – to better navigate the challenging waters of relationships. Don’t speak your language to those you love; speak their language so they feel the love, get “filled up,” and have the reserves to express love back to you … hopefully in a language you speak!
All of this can get confusing along the way. In my mind, although love is a character strength in itself, it seems that it is a strength that is well-suited to strengths-combination. Pairing love with other character strengths can help in both deepening the love for others as well as supporting how you express it.
- Combine love with self-control in order to take the time to consider the other person’s love language.
- Pair it with judgment to have an open-mind about how your loved one is expressing love to you. Maybe he/she is speaking their own language.
- Linking love with gratitude and kindness are “naturals” when it comes to reaching out to friends and families.
As I go through the list of 24 character strengths, I can’t find one that doesn’t enhance the heart that is deeply embedded in the concept of love. Build your strengths. Grow your relationships. Feel the love.