In 1938, Harvard University began conducting its Study of Adult Development, tracking the lives of 700 men who grew up in Boston in the 1930s and ’40s to study and compare their levels of physical and mental wellbeing throughout their lives.
Robert Waldinger, director of the study, explained in a 2015 TED Talk, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
This new empirical data supports the very ancient wisdom of love’s supreme importance, recorded as the underlying tenet expressed by all religions. As St. Augustine expressed it, summing up the whole of the religious life, “a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will.”
Love is about much more than just romantic relationships. The classical Greek thinkers delimitated seven types of love: eros (erotic or sexual love), philia (love of friends; friendship), storge (familial love), ludus (playful love), pragma (practical love based on duty), philautia (self-love), and the one that Paul the Apostle uses, agape (universal love).
Across religions, it is clear that we are meant to widen our circle of love as much as possible. We all have different personalities, characteristics, and circumstances in life with which we identify ourselves. But each of us is a transient expression of the same one reality. Once we make this shift in thought, we can potentially feel—and demonstrate—love for everyone in our daily thought and behavior. By loving all we are not just giving, but being open to what we will receive from millions of people whom we may or may not directly know.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
—The New Testament (Luke 10:27), Christian text
“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Catholic Jesuit priest
“Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘You will not enter Paradise until you have faith and you will not have faith until you love each other. Shall I show you something that, if you did, you would love each other? Spread peace between yourselves.’”
—Hadith, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 54
“This is what the Holy One said to Israel: My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another.”
—Sefer Ha-Aggadah, collection of Jewish writings
“Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures.”
—Baha’u’llah, Baha’i prophet
“She whose heart is full of love Is ever in full bloom Joy is hers for she has no love of self Only those who love you Conquer love of self”
—Guru Nanak, Sikh prophet
“This supreme Lord who pervades all existence, the true Self of all creatures, may be realized through undivided love.”
—The Bhagavad Gita (8:22), Hindu text
let all-embracing thoughts for all that lives be thine,
—an all-embracing love