Can You Teach Yourself to Love?

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Are you so turned off by family troubles or crimes in the news that you've lost faith in people? Maybe you feel less empathy for others than you used to.

A woman we'll call Margaret told us, "I feel completely drained this holiday season. I used to feel love and joy, but with my adult children doing crazy things, and my boss firing two of my favorite co-workers, I've lost my loving feelings!"

Margaret should keep in mind that love keeps us alive. It's the most powerful thing there is. But, love does require activity on your part. You create love and joy when you look for the good in all people and all situations.

"I came out of a bad marriage last year," says a friend of ours we'll call Jeanna. "But, I didn't stop loving. I told myself I'd take my loving feelings with me. I left the spouse behind, but I took every ounce of love with me as I moved on."

Love takes practice. It requires giving something to a situation.

If someone has fired co-workers you really liked, for example, call up your friends and say, "I'll be glad to help you look for another job. Maybe you can find a better one."

It's very tempting to build up anger as you think about certain people. How could your daughter's husband end up in jail _ a week before Christmas? How dare your niece get pregnant while she's still in high school?

To keep activating love, try to look for the good in each challenging situation. For instance, a man we know says his son's arrest for drunken driving turned out to be a blessing. The son got into Alcoholics Anonymous. The son is now sober and doing well.

A woman we know says her 16-year-old daughter is having a baby soon. The family has mixed feelings about this. "But," the woman told us, "my husband recently died of cancer, so the baby is going to fill a hole in our hearts."

"Love in your heart makes you look and feel a lot healthier," says a psychologist we'll call Carl. "When my patients lose love, I can see them going downhill fast. Love, as crazy as it sounds, is a beauty enhancer. That's why people in love seem to glow."

Carl shares a story about a young girl in therapy. She was trapped by the feeling she didn't deserve love. "I helped her see that none of us need a reason to love ourselves," says Carl. "All of us deserve love for absolutely no reason whatsoever."

According to Carl, we must decide to give good things to ourselves _ compliments, peaceful thoughts, a pat on the back, especially when we're down.

"We create love within ourselves," says Carl. "We build up good feelings, hope, a good attitude, so we can share these things with other people."

When you're gone from this Earth, the powerful things you did by offering love to others will still be affecting future generations. A nephew you loved _ even when he was in trouble _ can affect his children and grandchildren. An employee you helped train well can affect his family for generations.

Some philosophers say that you become immortal by putting love into the universe. When your life ends, the love you gave stays behind and lives on.

Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

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