Can you have happiness without love?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately. My opinion is; no you cannot find true lasting happiness without love. This does not mean “love” in the sense of an intimate relationship with a life partner or spouse. Granted, loving someone and being loved can and does bring tremendous joy, happiness, and purpose to our lives, but it is not a requirement for happiness. We only need to think about monks or people of highly enlightened states who have found happiness within themselves. In this context I’m talking about love for oneself.
For years I was unhappy. Sure I seemed happy on the outside and thought I was happy, but I always felt as if something was missing in my life. Any happiness I experienced was short lived. My happiness mostly came from professional accomplishments or material possessions; they weren’t keys to happiness rather but distractions. My answer to how to find happiness or “how to be happy” was anything that distracted me from knowing my true self. Intimate relationships never lasted very long either, usually because I felt as if I was giving up something; like personal freedom or the pursuit of my dreams. I know, it’s backwards thinking. At least a way of thinking that’s bound to leave me lonely.
The real reason I failed at building deep personal relationships with others was my lack of self-love or as someone else recently described to me, emotional connectedness. We’ve all heard the saying that it’s impossible to love others unless you love yourself. Certainly I agree to some extent, yet there are some that would argue with this type of logic. Here’s an example:
For years I thought I loved a lot of people; I would do anything to help them out and truly thought of myself as selfless and altruistic. Looking back, I see that what I felt for others was not true love; it was an attempt to be liked. Most of the things I did for others were self-serving in that I was seeking acceptance. The actions and emotions—even though I may not have realized it—were conditional. And yes, there are those who would argue that even with unconditional love, there are some motives there as well. Doesn’t it feel good to do something for someone you love unconditionally?
Although I would give freely, conversely, I had tremendous difficulty accepting anything from others. That includes gifts, love, or emotional intimacy. So even though I thought I was giving love, I was still unable to accept it due to low self-esteem and lack of self-love. No matter how much I helped or thought I loved others, I was continuously left wanting more, thus void of true long-lasting happiness.
How is Love and Happiness Related?
When my wife was 20 years old her mother was killed when she was hit by a car while exchanging information along the side of the road after an accident. My wife was very close with her mother and the loss was extremely hard to accept. My wife once said “after her mom died, nothing was ever as good as it could be.” She went on to say, “don’t get me wrong, life is good and even great, but when something great happens in your life, your mother is the first person you want to share it with.”
I love my wife dearly, and she is always the first person I want to share things with. She is my biggest fan as I’m hers. However, we both realize that our happiness is not contingent on each other. We realize we’re just not that powerful. Sure life may be less exciting or fulfilling without each other for a while (honestly it would suck), but we have happiness within ourselves that transcends our relationship with each other. It would be like when she lost her mother, it might not be as good as it could be, but happiness is still available to all of us regardless of who is in our lives. The key to harnessing this happiness, especially when we lose someone, is shedding expectations of those currently in our lives and not living in the past.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in a relationship was constantly trying to get to “the way things used to be.” That is a disaster waiting to happen; today’s expectations are tomorrow’s resentments. The past is in the past; tomorrow will never be the same as today. By limiting your future to the way it was before, you’re also limiting the chance for greatness and something beyond your wildest dreams!
At times in our lives we all need someone to be our biggest fan, someone to encourage us when we doubt ourselves or share in our victories. Likewise, we should all be someone else’s biggest fan. I do not think I knew how to truly love and support someone until I learned how to love myself. There’s just a completely different level of compassion for others once we learn to have compassion for ourselves.
I’ve had a lot of friends over the years that have experienced tragedy and great joy; and I believe I was there for them when it counted. But I don’t think I ever really “felt” for someone sincerely as I have since I’ve discovered self-love. A few years ago when I was early in my spiritual journey and self-discovery process, I met this girl who had lost hearing in one ear years before I met her. It was a source of frustration for her and I knew she really missed the ability to hear music like she used to. One day I was sitting in a meeting and received a phone call from her, she informed me that out of no where she was able to hear out of her bad ear. To this day I remember the sincere feeling of joy I felt for her good fortune. It’s hard to explain but it was different than anything I had ever felt. It was then, in comparison, that I realized the lack of compassion and caring I had truly held in my heart up to that point for others. In years prior I would have been like, “that’s cool, good for her” but this was different, more deep and sincere than that. I attribute this to the process I was undertaking to learn how to accept, love, and feel compassion for myself. Since then, I have experienced extreme happiness.
As for how love and happiness are related; the more love I have for me (emotionally connectedness), the more love I can give. The more love I can give, the increased inner happiness I experience as I’m more open to accepting love from others.