A useful working definition of love is “a positive, warm, affectionate feeling involving attachment feelings, identification with the loved one, desire to be close or closer with the loved one, the wish for good things for the loved one, and pleasure experienced in contact with or contemplation of the loved one.”  Love truly “makes our world go round,” and it provides most of us with our clearest reason for experiencing life as worthwhile.

It should be recognized that with love, as with all other feelings, we each have a somewhat different personal definition of this feeling, since we learn our concepts and definitions from how we observe that others define them and from our own experiences.  The definitions that we observe in those around us, as well as our personal experiences, are somewhat different for each of us.  Still, if we are to seriously think about love, we need to be “on the same page,” and the definition offered here is useful for exploring how we love and how we have difficulties loving and being loved.

Love is a warm, positive (pleasant) feeling, as opposed to a neutral, cold, or negative feeling.  When we love someone we feel warmly toward him or her, and it feels good.   We feel affection (tender attachment and fondness) for the loved one.

When we love, we want to attach to the loved one, to be connected.  We long to be with and even touching the loved one all the time.  We are convinced that the loved one is wonderful and lovable, and we readily ignore the loved one’s flaws and occasional failures.

When we love, we identify with the loved one, as we do when we like someone.  We want to be like the loved one or identified with the loved one, since it feels good to be connected in this way and feels good to think of ourselves in terms of our similarities to the loved one.   We enjoy being connected with the loved one because he or she is worth being with.

In loving, we want to be close to the loved one.  Being near feels good and is comforting.  Closeness implies the possibility of interaction, but simply being close by is satisfying in its own right.

When we love someone, we want good things for that person.  We want the loved one to be happy and fortunate in life.  We want things to go well for the loved one.  We feel pain empathically when a loved one is hurt.

We take great pleasure in our contact with the loved one, and we feel positive feelings when we see the loved one or think about the loved one, even without interaction.  The loved person is a positive object for us which we value as a source of good feelings and pleasant experiences.  The loved person is interesting to us.

To demonstrate the mainstream nature of the above definition, compare it to the major definitional aspects of love in the current (11-2013) version of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties;  attraction based on sexual desire; affection based on admiration,benevolence, or common interests; warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.

It is also instructive to reflect on the more differentiated view of love of the ancient Greeks.  “Eros” is generally what we think of as sexual desire or passion.  “Philia” is generally equivalent to friendship, seen with friends, family, colleagues, comrades in arms, etc.  Playful love, as between children or casual lovers, came to be called “ludus” in Latin.  “Pragma” referred to the deep connection and understanding possible between long-married spouses.  “Agape” or selfless love identified a general feeling of love for everyone, possibly extending to animals and the world itself.  “Philautia” referred to self-love.  The definition given here focuses on all of these except eros, which our society has confused with the general concept of love due to the evolution over the last thousand years of the concept of a spousal relationship which is completely self-sufficient and needs nothing from outside.*

*The information about the Greek views of love was taken from Roman Krznaric’s book How Should We Live? (BlueBridge, 2011).