From rom-coms to romance novels to the latest top 40 hit, popular culture perpetuates the idea that love—the affection, desire and joy we feel for other persons and things in our life
—is something that merely happens to us, as opposed to something we choose, as if love itself were a force of nature and we at the mercy of its will. We talk about love at first sight, falling in love, being lucky in love, and all being fair in love and war. In one of the most famous love songs of all time, Elvis Presley croons, “I can’t help falling in love with you
.” This seems to be the overarching theme: Love can’t be helped. You either have it or you don’t. From When Harry Met Sally to Shakespeare, this idea has permeated our culture, our language and, whether we realize it or not, our beliefs. But here’s the clincher: How we talk about love is not how love actually works. At least, it’s not how it should work. Love is the beginning of a story, not the ending. And that story also begins with a choice. Love isn’t something that acts upon us. Rather, we act upon it. Love is something we choose to do every single day. And most days, that choosing takes work.
But what exactly does it look like for a person to “choose love”? With any choice, when we choose one thing it means we also do not choose another. Therefore, we can choose love by deliberately not choosing any number of other feelings or emotions we may experience at any given point in time—anger, sadness, fear—and instead take conscious steps in a direction of patience, compassion and light.
If choosing not to feel an emotion seems too difficult to wrap your mind around right now, think of it as choosing to indulge one emotion over another instead. In my own life, I wake up every single day and I choose to indulge love. I choose love for my life, for myself and my children, for my spouse, my parents, my friends, for my community, my career. I choose love for the world around me: every plant, every animal, every life that exists. I choose love for the sheer existence of this beautiful, mysterious universe.
Learning to choose love wasn’t easy for me at first. It happened over the course of a few very difficult and unexpected events in my life. These events led me through my share of anger, pain and fear, but there was always a choice involved. Choose love or choose anger? Indulge love or choose fear? There is nothing inherently wrong with these other feelings, of course. Fear, in particular, is part of the natural human experience. Sometimes on my journey I ended up choosing fear over love, but it was during those times that I learned the most about why it’s important to choose love over anything else. By choosing love over another emotion, you’re acknowledging the place where that emotion exists, exploring the root of it and deciding to move in a more productive direction instead. This is the difference between feeling our emotions and acting on them. You may feel fear or anger and still act from a place of love. That is something you can choose to do.
Fair warning: Choosing love takes a great deal of vulnerability. It’s natural to fear this experience. Being vulnerable with another person means we allow ourselves to risk being rejected or misunderstood. It can be much easier to preserve our ego, self-justify, live in denial or even assign blame rather than live in a state of authenticity and self-truth. But when we deny ourselves the opportunity to be vulnerable,
we also limit our ability to be truly seen and known by those around us. So what if we reframe this from a mindset of love? Instead of focusing on the risks of vulnerability, focus on the benefits. For instance, when I allow myself to be vulnerable with another person, I open myself up to the risk of rejection, but I also honor my truth and allow my innermost self to shine. My heart is open to the possibility of their acceptance. And when I receive someone’s acceptance from a place of vulnerability, the experience is even sweeter. I also am more accepting of myself. I am aware of who I am. I honor my needs and my wants. I am more empathetic toward other people’s needs and wants as well. I celebrate their differences and accept their imperfections.
And there is healing in that. By choosing love, you’re better able to give grace to yourself, make peace with your past, understand your feelings and motivations, as well as forgive any harm you might have inadvertently done to yourself, your family or your community. Choosing love is an invitation to your soul to roam free and explore its greatest potential. When you approach everything from a place of love, positive energy will begin to bubble up within you. You will be able to tune into your deepest, truest self and share your gifts with the world. And the world around you will seem instantly more marvelous.
When we choose love, we choose life.
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