Understanding this thing called love
The author, C S Lewis is best known for writing the series of children's novels that began with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". But he also wrote a number of deeply philosophical books on a range of moral and spiritual topics. One of the most famous of these books was "The Four Loves" a radical new way of distinguishing between the four emotions we commonly refer to as love. He called these: affection, friendship, eros and charity.
Understanding the difference and importance of each can provide a useful insight into some of the key components of a good life, both at home and at work.
An interesting point made by CS Lewis is that whereas in the English language we can distinguish between the words "like" and "love", in French there is only the one word, "aime". Liking things (such as certain foods, places and our work) and other people is an essential part of loving life. Indeed, positive psychology teaches us that the more aspects of our life that we like, the happier we will be - provided we don't start to over-prioritise any of these things, a danger highlighted by Lewis.
Something that is perhaps less well-known is that we can actually train ourselves to like our life, our work and other people more, simply by saying out loud that we do, especially when we are talking to our friends, family or work colleagues. Refraining from complaining and finding positive things to say, not least about our workplace, can have a massively beneficial impact on our lives
Friendship, says CS Lewis is born at the moment when one person says to another "What! You too? I thought that no-one but myself..." Friendship, rather than romantic love, is the true antidote to loneliness and isolation, both at home and at work. And, of course, often our best friends are also our partners or other members of our families. One of the keys to happiness is ensuring that we take time to nurture our friendships by regularly meeting up and through phone calls and texts. Often this is a matter of giving priority to something that has long-term importance over something else that at the time seems more pressingly urgent (but actually is quite ephemeral).
Having said that, CS Lewis also warns that friendships can take us into much darker places when we choose friends who confirm our prejudices and encourage us to be angry or bitter about the world. Friendship can be one of the greatest sources of happiness in our lives, provided we choose our friends wisely.
When we hear someone speak about love, it is usually eros or romantic love that first comes to mind; and the heart skipping moments that fuel any film or book that claims to have love as its theme. Eros is the Valentine's Day version of love, the love of hearts and red roses and candlelit dinners. It is the love of finding your soulmate and of kisses and physical affection. Who could live without that sort of love?
Well truthfully, as beautiful as it can be, romantic love is the only one of the four loves that it is quite possible to live without, either through choice or circumstance, and still be reasonably happy. Eros is wonderful and life-affirming when it involves mutual respect and is accompanied by true affection and friendship. But the idolisation of romantic love, the idea that life is never complete without it, can seriously impair a person's hopes of true happiness and contentment.
The word "charity" has evolved over the years to mean a specific type of caring in which someone with a serious disadvantage (such as homelessness, hunger, disability or illness) is helped by someone without those disadvantages.
But that's not the type of charity that CS Lewis describes as love, or at least it's only a small part of it. Lewis is referring to the original definition of charity to mean an attitude of kindness, understanding and generosity to every other person, whatever their situation or relationship to us may be. In his view, it is the truest version of love. Anyone can like their car, have a few friends and feel romantic love. But only someone with genuine goodness and love in their heart will be kind and thoughtful to everyone they meet.
How coaching can help
Ultimately the purpose of life is to be happy and that happiness will be dependent to a large extent on all four aspects of love: how much we enjoy the things we do, our friendships, our partners and family, and the way in which we care for others. Coaching is a great way of reviewing all these aspects of life. It's a forward-looking process that involves helping you draw up an action plan that can literally transform your life if you follow through on your own choices and decisions.
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About Paul Hemphill
Paul Hemphill is a leadership and well-being coach who specialises in bringing a positive psychology approach to his coaching. Over the last five years he has helped literally hundreds of clients to restart their lives, develop new levels of confidence, change careers, improve their work/life balance, or become better leaders and managers.