Throughout my life, I’ve sampled a number of junk-food philosophies—popular ideas that may look and taste great at first, but later make me feel sick and unsatisfied. And of all the junk-food philosophies I’ve tried, there is one stands supreme: “Love yourself—a lot!” it screams. “If you love yourself a lot then you’ll be happy.”
Please don’t misunderstand, while it’s obviously important to respect and value ourselves, there is a world of a difference between a healthy love of self, and an excessive love of self. A true and balanced love of self will encourage us to love others equally. We cross the line when we love ourselves more than others.
Think of love in terms of sugar. The body has a natural need for sugar—but those needs are met as we eat balanced meals. Fruits, vegetables, and other foods naturally produce the sugar that our bodies require. If we’re eating a mixture of healthy foods, we don’t need to add more sugar to our diet.
So it is with real love. If we are engaged in healthy relationships with other people—family, friends, community, and others—then we will naturally receive love from a diversity of sources. There would be no need for us to overindulge ourselves in self-love.
Of course, not all of us have totally healthy relationships with everyone, which is why it is important to have a diversity relationships. Just like it isn’t healthy to eat just one type of food, it isn’t healthy to rely on just one person to fulfill your need for love—especially if that one person is you.
You cannot be the primary source of your need for love. In order for love to be love it must be shared with someone else. It cannot exist otherwise. And yet, we live in a culture that adds sugar to everything—and a culture that actively tries to substitute real love with an overabundance of self-love. But can you blame the culture? Like sugar, self-love is immediately sweet and somewhat intoxicating. It gives us a rush, and makes us feel good about ourselves. But like a sugar rush, an excess self-love will ultimately drop us down lower than before, prompting depression and self-loathing.
I know these feelings all too well. I lived a life of abject selfishness—a life of depression, addiction, and a failed suicide attempt. An overabundance of self-love had brought me nothing but misery. The turnaround came when I decided to stop focusing on myself and try to focus on others.
As part of that resolve, I started working at a wilderness therapy program for at-risk youth. The program emphasizes a primitive way of life: hiking in nature, starting a fire with sticks, drinking clean water, sleeping under the stars, and eating natural and organic foods (no added sugars).
Another interesting part about the program is that we didn’t have mirrors. We went for weeks at a time—sometimes even months—without ever looking at our own reflection. But even though we probably looked like crazed Yeti children, we didn’t care. We were happy, healthy and were having a great time with each other.
I remember one girl who was very resistant to being in the program. At the beginning, she was bitter and angry—demanding that she have everything her way while her prickly personality kept others at a distance. But as the weeks passed, this girl underwent an amazing transformation. Somewhere along the way, she learned to genuinely love the people in her group and her love for others eclipsed her feelings of anger and bitterness. Feeling love from her, the people in her group reciprocated and wanted to be around her. After six weeks in the program, her face was about as dirty as it could get—and yet she shone like the sun. It was a testament to the fact that the more love you give away, the more love you receive.
Although I’m undoubtedly a selfish guy, I’m trying to focus on others. I have learned that I always feel happier and healthier when I offer genuine love to other people. The world is already overwhelmed with people gorged on their own self-love. What the world needs now is love—sweet, selfless love.