Since I was quite young, I can remember feeling an emptiness in the middle of my body. A longing. It seemed to go away when I received praise, appreciation, or affection. So, over time, I learned to pursue these things with all my energy. I went to great lengths to avoid the empty feeling and replace it with the shot of dopamine that came with external validation.

It took me decades to see the difference between chasing love and cultivating it. And there is a big difference. The cultivation of love comes from being loving. It does not require a specific target. It is unconditional. We can do it anywhere and anytime. It does not depend on the weather, other people’s behavior, or our income.

Chasing love is an never-ending exercise in trying to get ourselves in situations that will trigger our nervous systems to generate loving feelings. We try to find the right person or people, the right climate, the right living situation, and the right occupation — all in hopes that it will trigger the love we seek.

The approach of chasing love can lead to a lot of defensiveness. Any situation that might trigger discomfort is to be avoided. If we are counting on the outside world to be the source of love we seek, then challenges and feedback can feel like threats and wounds instead of opportunities and information. We tend to hunker down with people who see the world the same way we do. We perceive different viewpoints as being dangerous rather than holding the possibility of expanding our understanding of the world.

It’s funny how we often avoid the topic of love. Love seems to have no place in school, in work, and in many aspects of our lives. It seems nebulous and “touchy-feely.” And yet, we all want love. At the end of our lives, it is the experience that we wish we had made more time for.

Many of us grow up with the sense that love is “out there.” We believe we will get it once circumstances are just right, or when we have proven ourselves to be worthy. This message is passed on to us through families, schools, workplaces, and through advertising. The message is clear — there is a level of accomplishment and prestige that will make you, once and for all, deserving of love. It comes in the form of your GPA, the number of your Instagram followers, the car you drive, the zip code you live in, or the number of zeroes before the decimal point in your bank account.

In my work with people of all different ages, professions, and income levels, I have found, over and over again, that no amount of wealth, power, fame, physical fitness, achievement, talent, attractiveness, or anything else is a guarantee of love. No matter how thin, rich, and applauded you are, you may still feel that you are just not enough.

However, we are always free to be loving. Always. We don’t have to wait for love to show up or be triggered by something or someone in our environment. We don’t have to say the right thing, look the right way, find the right person, get the right letters or title after our name. We don’t have to manipulate, be right, or win. In fact, the ultimate shortcut to experiencing love is to be loving. We get what we practice. This truth has been taught for thousands of years. And this wisdom is needed now more than ever.

We can simply cultivate the love we seek. We are free to sit quietly everyday and connect with the loving presence that each of us has within. We can bring attention to the breath as an anchor, find the place in our body where we feel love, and focus our attention there. With practice, we can access this loving experience more and more readily.

We are free to cultivate love when we are standing in line at the bank, when we are stuck in traffic, when we are delayed at the airport, when we are brushing our teeth, when we are falling asleep at night, when we are waking up in the morning. We do not need a reason.

We are free to breathe in the reality of human struggle (others and our own), and breathe out the loving wish for grace and peace. We are free to feel anger and respond with kindness. We are free to hold the door for others and pick up after ourselves. We are free to look people in the eye and listen deeply when they are talking to us. We are free to find a small flicker of love for the person we struggle with the most — we can do this without letting go of our principles or boundaries.

So, we can keep chasing love and hoping it will show up from time to time — it certainly does. Or we can spend as much time as we can cultivating it everyday. This practice can bring stability and meaning into our lives. This practice can reduce our dependence on circumstances that are outside our control. The choice to cultivate love — many times a day, everyday — is ours.

Since I was quite young, I can remember feeling an emptiness in the middle of my body. A longing. It seemed to go away when I received praise, appreciation, or affection. So, over time, I learned to pursue these things with all my energy. I went to great lengths to avoid the empty feeling and replace it with the shot of dopamine that came with external validation.

It took me decades to see the difference between chasing love and cultivating it. And there is a big difference. The cultivation of love comes from being loving. It does not require a specific target. It is unconditional. We can do it anywhere and anytime. It does not depend on the weather, other people’s behavior, or our income.

Chasing love is an never-ending exercise in trying to get ourselves in situations that will trigger our nervous systems to generate loving feelings. We try to find the right person or people, the right climate, the right living situation, and the right occupation — all in hopes that it will trigger the love we seek.

The approach of chasing love can lead to a lot of defensiveness. Any situation that might trigger discomfort is to be avoided. If we are counting on the outside world to be the source of love we seek, then challenges and feedback can feel like threats and wounds instead of opportunities and information. We tend to hunker down with people who see the world the same way we do. We perceive different viewpoints as being dangerous rather than holding the possibility of expanding our understanding of the world.

It’s funny how we often avoid the topic of love. Love seems to have no place in school, in work, and in many aspects of our lives. It seems nebulous and “touchy-feely.” And yet, we all want love. At the end of our lives, it is the experience that we wish we had made more time for.

Many of us grow up with the sense that love is “out there.” We believe we will get it once circumstances are just right, or when we have proven ourselves to be worthy. This message is passed on to us through families, schools, workplaces, and through advertising. The message is clear — there is a level of accomplishment and prestige that will make you, once and for all, deserving of love. It comes in the form of your GPA, the number of your Instagram followers, the car you drive, the zip code you live in, or the number of zeroes before the decimal point in your bank account.

In my work with people of all different ages, professions, and income levels, I have found, over and over again, that no amount of wealth, power, fame, physical fitness, achievement, talent, attractiveness, or anything else is a guarantee of love. No matter how thin, rich, and applauded you are, you may still feel that you are just not enough.

However, we are always free to be loving. Always. We don’t have to wait for love to show up or be triggered by something or someone in our environment. We don’t have to say the right thing, look the right way, find the right person, get the right letters or title after our name. We don’t have to manipulate, be right, or win. In fact, the ultimate shortcut to experiencing love is to be loving. We get what we practice. This truth has been taught for thousands of years. And this wisdom is needed now more than ever.

We can simply cultivate the love we seek. We are free to sit quietly everyday and connect with the loving presence that each of us has within. We can bring attention to the breath as an anchor, find the place in our body where we feel love, and focus our attention there. With practice, we can access this loving experience more and more readily.

We are free to cultivate love when we are standing in line at the bank, when we are stuck in traffic, when we are delayed at the airport, when we are brushing our teeth, when we are falling asleep at night, when we are waking up in the morning. We do not need a reason.

We are free to breathe in the reality of human struggle (others and our own), and breathe out the loving wish for grace and peace. We are free to feel anger and respond with kindness. We are free to hold the door for others and pick up after ourselves. We are free to look people in the eye and listen deeply when they are talking to us. We are free to find a small flicker of love for the person we struggle with the most — we can do this without letting go of our principles or boundaries.

So, we can keep chasing love and hoping it will show up from time to time — it certainly does. Or we can spend as much time as we can cultivating it everyday. This practice can bring stability and meaning into our lives. This practice can reduce our dependence on circumstances that are outside our control. The choice to cultivate love — many times a day, everyday — is ours.