Posted by: thealienist | January 14, 2010

Foundations of Mental Health: Love

People of all periods of history have searched for the secret of happiness and contentedness.  Many opinions are available for how to live the good life.  Some of these opinions are of limited use, and some show deep insight and wisdom about the human condition.  In my search for guidance to live an authentic, meaningful, and productive life, I have found many things that contribute to the well-lived life but one thing that is more important than all the rest.  I have found that the bedrock of sound mental health is a deep, abiding, resilient, and cultivated capacity for love; and at the heart of this ability is an unshakable love for yourself.

I know that some may consider this realization obvious and trite.  Others will undoubtedly see it as misguided (possibly dangerously so).  I hope that you will suspend judgment on this until you hear what I have to say.

First, in the pharmacopoeia of love, there are many types and various strengths of preparations.  Some are easily recognizable and common throughout nature.  Eros (or sexual love) sparks and flares.  It is showy and demands attention.  Philia (or friendship) is strong, long-lasting, and comfortable.  It is highly prized for its sustaining power.  Storge (or affection) flows from familiarity and leads to a nourishing kindness and respect.  These three loves are important, but unfortunately, for some they are unreliable.  Their sources, both from within an individual and from without, can be hidden or withheld.  Opportunities for their expression may be restricted.

Fortunately, the greatest love is not so fickle.  The foundational type of love, that lays the groundwork upon which the others can build and thaws the earth to release the sometimes frozen springs of eros, philia, and storge, is agapeAgape (sometimes known as charity) does not depend on the comings-and-goings of emotions.  It is a decision to seek the best for an individual.  This type of love challenges our intellect to identify what our loved one truly needs and strengthens our resolve to persist in seeking his advantage even as our emotions waver and costs mount.

With these distinctions in mind, I believe that the ultimate foundation for mental health is an unshakable attitude of agape towards yourself.  With this attitude, you will not be satisfied to waste your life in idleness or in worries about the past or future.  You will live your life in the present, surrounded by innumerable opportunities to think great thoughts, experience enriching events, and associate with important individuals.  They will be great, enriching, and important because you have chosen to see them so.  In turn, as you seek to surround yourself with the best, you will discover that expanding your agape attitude toward others enriches you as well.  As your family, friends, and co-workers benefit from your help, they become greater sources for your own growth.  Alexis de Tocqueville (and others) were right in praising enlightened self-interest, though little credit seems to be given to older sources of this wisdom such as the Bible.

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Responses

  1. I came to this blog via Richard Beck’s Experimental Theology blog. It has always been my contention that a person can never truly be happy unless one is happy within oneself. I neither think it obvious or trite for you to state such. It would be ever so good if from our earliest days we were taught to look inward for happiness and not rely on happiness from material things or from other people; although, I must admit that animals have always brought serenity & happiness to me.
    I am glad to have scientific terms to put to these feelings. Of Eros I was familiar, but not Phila or Storg. Agape is a wonderful word.
    The Bible does offer great wisdom, however, many people take it literally and not as stories to help us along life’s way. The stories in the Bible continues to be bent to serve the purposes of groups of people and not taken in the context for which it was intended. Many wars & conflicts have been waged with the Bible or the Koran held in one hand and a sword in the other. But, I have digressed.
    I enjoyed your piece on Foundations of Mental Health: Love and shall return periodically to read more as I visit Beck’s blog.

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  2. […] interest lightly simply to get what you want.  This is simply another application of agape (see Foundations of Mental Health:  Love).  If your opponent sees that you take his interests seriously and that his success matters to […]

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