There’s a wonderful song, “The Greatest Love of All,” by Whitney Houston, also sung by Jane Oliver. Here are the lyrics with my comments:
Everybody’s searching for a hero (be your own hero).
People need someone to look up to (look up to yourself).
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs (fulfill your own needs).
A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me (yes, we need to depend on and trust ourselves).
I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow (cast your own shadow).
If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe (yes, be independent—do it your way).
No matter what they take from me (tell people no!), they can’t take away my dignity (it’s yours alone).
Because the greatest love of all (love of self) is happening to me (who else?).
I found the greatest love of all inside of me (that is where it lives).
The greatest love of all (nurture it) is easy to achieve (no, it’s not).
Learning to love yourself (yes, we have to learn) is the greatest love of all.
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all (yes! 😊)
It’s been said that you cannot love another until you love yourself. Aristotle discussed self-love in his Nicomachean Ethics. He said that self-love is necessary to live a good and happy life. Self-love is love of one’s character. Fundamentally, our character is who we are—the sum of our virtues, vices, and values. To love ourselves is to love our character. Therefore, above all, self-love involves the practice of rational, life-enhancing virtues, and in doing so, we make our character and soul (in the non-religious sense). Aristotle says that self-love is a model for how we love our friends. We love our own virtuous character, and so we love the virtuous characters of our friends.
The man of character, according to Aristotle, loves generosity, benevolence, bravery, loyalty, and trustworthiness. These are virtues for Aristotle. In Objectivism, the cardinal virtues include independence, justice, honesty, and integrity. By practicing these and other virtues, we can attain the cardinal values of rationality (reason), productiveness (purposeful activity), and pride (self-esteem). These virtues and values, among others, make up our character and soul.
While love is a feeling, it is also an action, and there are actions that we can take to love and care for ourselves. Self-love means having a high regard for our own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of our needs and not sacrificing our well-being to please others. We can practice self-love in many different ways.
When we love ourselves, we:
- Care for our bodies by keeping them fit through exercise; healthy, nourishing food; and supplements or medications as needed. When necessary, we see a doctor for a diagnosis and guidance.
- Manage our mental health by stress reduction practices such as taking breaks, thinking/meditation, writing, talking positively to ourselves and others, and, as necessary, we seek psychological counseling. We take time for rest and relaxation. We go for walks alone or with others. We practice good sleep hygiene to wake refreshed and feeling great each day.
- Entertain and enrich ourselves by reading novels, attending plays and movies, listening to music, appreciating paintings and sculptures, and everything else that provides emotional fuel and brings joy into our lives.
- Commit to honest self-reflection and introspection. We reflect, review, and evaluate our lives and the ways we are living them. We talk to ourselves positively but realistically. We consciously appreciate, admire, and feel grateful for the good things and people we have. We compliment ourselves and avoid harsh, unjust self-judgment.
- Love our friends. Taking the time to enjoy friends is enormously satisfying and rewarding for them and for us. Our friends are our moral mirrors; they reflect our character back to ourselves. Friendship provides a way to see ourselves more clearly. Aristotle says: “All friendships (including romance) are rooted in self-love. The right kind of self-love is an achievement, love for what is best in us motivated by self-love.”
- Love our own character: Self-esteem is really important, and it is the result and reward of practicing rational, life-enhancing virtues and values. We should not accept unearned guilt, nor should we earn any guilt. (If guilt is earned, then it must be fully expiated to one’s own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of those we harmed or damaged, if possible.) We need to practice integrity by working to achieve our principles, values, and goals. In that way, we are true to ourselves.
Yes, love of self is the greatest love of all. And when we love ourselves, we love our lives, friends, and romantic partners much more.