I sometimes become a hungry ghost. When I receive something nice, say, affection, I can’t get enough of it. I want more and more, and no matter how much I get, it’s never enough.
No one likes feeling like a hungry ghost. We all want to be happy: to receive what we want and to be happy with it. When you’re a hungry ghost, you’re either unhappy because you aren’t getting what you want, you aren’t getting enough of what you want, or you got too much and you feel numb.
Because I don’t enjoy being a hungry ghost, I started thinking about ways to overcome this thought pattern. In particular, I was considering the hungry-ghostiness around love and affection. What does it mean to receive enough affection and how does that feel? Can we feel content with the fact that some people care about us and others don’t? Should we try to cultivate our happiness within ourselves or should we ask for it from other people?
THE MODEL OF HAPPINESS, WELL-BEING, FEELING LOVED, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
Let’s start from the core. In my drawing, that’s the green-blue sphere in the middle. Each of us has a beautiful (emotional) heart that is capable of cultivating a vast variety of emotions. Importantly, this core of ours can feel self-love: you can love yourself. Your heart can offer love to you. That’s far from easy, but it’s possible and indispensable. In order to feel or do any of the other things I’m going to talk about, one has to love oneself. I don’t know if this is good or bad news for you, but either way it’s true.
When the core has self-love, it can create a sense of self-worth and stability. If we love yourselves, not all the love we need has to come from outside because we already have some. That makes us feel worthy: we can provide love. Also, someone (ourselves) loves us, so apparently we must be worthy. And this feeling of self-worth gives rise to stability. One can be at peace with herself and just be.
So, it turns out the core consists of self-love, self-worth, and stability.
Reaching out and Giving Love
Once we have love and stability in the core, we can give away some love. I represented that with the red arrows going out of the core. We reach out to others and do something nice for them. We tell someone his shirt is pretty. We compliment someone on her work. We buy someone a present. We invite someone to dinner. We say, ‘I love you.’ We visit a friend in the hospital. We talk to someone about his loss. We enter a competition. We perform in front of an audience. We smile at someone in the street.
Reaching out requires vulnerability. When we offer affection to someone, we don’t know whether they will reciprocate the same way. We know the risk, but we reach out anyway. This requires courage because we have to be willing to put ourselves on the line. Vulnerability is particularly excruciating, but it’s the only way to truly connect to someone else. Don’t ask me how to acquire the courage to be vulnerable; I am struggling with it myself. In fact, I’m reading a book to find out how to do it better.
That was it about reaching out and offering love: once we have love in the core, we can reach out to others and offer some of that love to connect to them.
Receiving Care and Love
Isn’t it fantastic to receive care and love! I showed this with the purple arrows in my drawing. We all enjoy the warm feeling care and love from the outside bring us. It happens when we receive an unexpected call from a friend we haven’t heard from in a while. When someone tells us we did a good job and they mean it. When someone tells us he aspires to be like us. When someone says, ‘I miss you.’ When a friend comes to see us when we have the flu. When we receive a present. Or when a stranger smiles at us in the street.
An act of kindness can be tiny and still elicit a powerful positive reaction. For instance, out of the blue, I received a message saying, “How is your day?” It was such a simple sign of care that I stared at it for a full minute, smiling. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when these little moments happen, for a second I can’t believe it. I take a moment to let it sink in that yes, this actually happened, this person actually did this for me.
Naturally, receiving love and care is extremely gratifying. It makes us feel validated, accepted for who we are, and, well, loved and cared for. It’s wonderful. I still think, though, that we can’t possibly receive enough love and affection for the outside to satisfy our needs completely. That’s why we need to love and care for ourselves, and only then receive affection from others. Perhaps even if we did receive tons and tons of affection for the outside, unless we have self-love, we can’t process the external love in a way that truly soothes and satisfies us.
The important thing is that the love we receive from others can feed our love for ourselves. If other people think we are worthy of care, then most likely we truly are. When other people love and accept us, perhaps we can become more accepting and loving towards ourselves.
Clearly, receiving love and affection is amazing, and it can fuel our self-love.
We Give More Love than We Receive
As you may have noticed, the red arrows (giving love) are more numerous than the purple arrows (receiving love). No, I didn’t get lazy with my arrows; this was on purpose. I believe that we need to make an effort and reach out to others more often than we receive affection from others. This is because many of the times we reach out, our affection won’t be reciprocated. That’s the truth: not every attempted connection will be successful. This is easy to accept in the case of smiling at someone in the street: even if he doesn’t smile back, it’s not a big deal. But it’s much more difficult to accept this with bigger approaching actions. What if you ask your partner to marry you, but you discover your partner has doubts? What if you open up to a close friend about an insecurity of yours, and she tells you she doesn’t want to be your friend anymore? What if you discover that you really aren’t good enough at what you do?
Sometimes we reach out and we are rejected. There’s nothing to do about it. When one red arrow doesn’t make a connection, we have to trust that another one will. Love will come from somewhere else.
The good news is that sometimes affection comes uninvited and unexpected. From time to time, a purple arrow lands in our core and ignites a little fire of joy when we hadn’t predicted it. It can be a tiny bit of affection, but because we didn’t expect it, it’s so much better! In those cases, it’s our job to respond with affection and strengthen the connection. Someone had the courage to be vulnerable and reach out to us; then we can respond in a caring way and encourage the other’s vulnerability.
Putting Everything Together
The point of this “model” is that the core, the reaching out, and the receiving are three parts of a dynamic equilibrium. If you don’t remember what that means from science class, I’ll attempt to explain. It means that none of the parts are static but are in constant flux. But because all of them contribute something at each moment, they produce the overall state of happiness, well-being, and feeling loved.
This means that, in the drawing, the blue-green sphere, the red arrows, and the purple arrows constantly cooperate to achieve the state of well-being, in yellow. Our core (hopefully) keeps on bringing in self-love, self-worth, and stability. Because of that, we reach out to multiple people, offer love, and try to connect with others. Some attempts succeed, and others fail. And from time to time, we receive affection from others, so we feel loved, cared for, and accepted. The three components feed into each other and generate an overall feeling of well-being and joy.
What do you think? Do you agree that this is how it works? Do you think there are other factors to giving and receiving love? Do you vehemently disagree that you need to love yourself before you can truly receive love? Do you think that we receive less love than we give, or do you live in such a caring community that you receive more love than you give? Let me know.