The 4 Elements of True Love

Posted On: 02.18.15

true love

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, there are four elements of true love: loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. Now I’ve never believed that things as unwieldy and ineffable as love can be broken down like this, but I’ve got to admit that I find these elements interesting and convincing. I’m curious to hear what you think…

1. Loving Kindness

Per Thich Nhat Hanh, “The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself… Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person.” I buy this. I’m not sure whether we are able to offer happiness or be in a happy, healthy relationship if we are not first happy ourselves.

2. Compassion

Per Thich Nhat Hanh,”Compassion is the capacity to understand the suffering in oneself and in the other person. If you understand your own suffering, you can help him to understand his suffering.” I agree that compassion is tremendously important when it comes to love. Understanding our own suffering and the suffering of the person we love (or are working to love) is, I believe, essential.

3. Joy

Per Thich Nhat Hanh,”When you know how to generate joy, it nourishes you and nourishes the other person. Your presence is an offering, like fresh air, or spring flowers, or the bright blue sky.” Yes. Misery begets misery. Joy begets joy. When we are able to create joy in our own moments, that joy will serve to sustain the relationship, the affection. Without joy – or moments of it – can love survive?

4. Equanimity 

Per Thich Nhat Hanh,”We can also call [equanimity] inclusiveness or nondiscrimination. In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loves one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.”

This is the one I snag on. I’m not sure I agree that all boundaries disappear in a deep relationship. I think boundaries become thinner, more ephemeral, sure, and I also think that we need to adopt the lens of “we” rather than “me” at times, but I actually find it vital for us to cling to individuality even in the context of romantic or true love. I believe that suffering and happiness can be, at least to a point, individual and collective matters.

And I’m left wondering about the label true love? What does this mean? Ideal love? Real love? Perfect love? What makes one love true and another less true?

So much to think about on this fine Wednesday.

Thoughts? Do you agree that these four elements are necessary in love? What happens if we have some, but not all of these elements? Do you snag on the Equanimity element like I do?

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4 Comments for: "The 4 Elements of True Love"
  1. #1-Yes. I believe without a doubt that we can’t offer happiness or be in a happy relationship without first finding happiness ourselves, and I don’t think we’ll ever find authentic love until we’ve learned to cultivate joy within ourselves. Maybe I’m jaded but I’ve watched too many people I care about depend on someone else to provide happiness for them and they emerge from the relationship more broken and lost than they were to begin with. I also paused at equanimity. I think individuality is essential in a relationship for so many reasons, but growing together and alongside each other is also so important. Good thoughts this morning.

  2. Kathy

    I agree with all 4 elements. Equanimity for me right now as I read that passage resonates loudly! My 22 year old daughter and I have been going through a very difficult period right now. Her suffering has become my suffering, and in turn my suffering has become hers! This has in turn affected my husband in exactly the same way, and therefore our relationship became affected by our sufferings! I believe when darkness, and periods of difficult times come the first 3 are essential, but not easily achieved under sustained duress. 10 years ago my husband lost his job during the recession. The following years had stretched our love and marriage beyond anywhere we ever imagined. When someone you love is suffering it is almost impossible for you to not take their suffering on.True love is riding out the difficult times, less true love walks away. Perhaps 15 years ago my answer and interpretation would have been completely different! I was blissfully happy.

  3. Amy

    Can’t wait to read this book! Just bought it on amazon. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for this post, Aidan. One of my favorite poems is Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye ( Your first point reminded me of her words. Practicing loving kindness is a principle that applies to others as well as ourselves. I think we forget that sometimes.

    Looking forward to reading this book. xo

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