Last week, I introduced loving-kindness meditation as a powerful way to increase your feelings of love and compassion for others. Recent studies from positive psychology have also shown how this meditation increases the total amount of happiness you feel. Review last week’s post here.
This week, I want to talk about how to turn this love inward.
Be honest: you can be pretty hard on yourself, can’t you? Sometimes those voices in your head are not just self-critical but down-right mean. (See post here.)
Yet when I talk about ‘loving yourself,’ many of you immediately have visions of over-the-top, self-help-gone-wrong scenarios such as Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”
You can admit it; I have those visions too.
In modern American culture, giving yourself love seems self-indulgent and egotistical. Most of us are taught from a young age not to brag and not to act like we’re “all that.” We’re taught to focus on what we need to strengthen or change. While we can’t easily change our culture, we can change our focus. Here’s this week’s challenge: get radically counter-cultural and focus on self-love.
Adapting the loving-kindness practice
Here’s how: use the meditation instructions from last week to start. Open up the positive phrases and send that positive energy to loved ones as instructed. Then when you’ve got a good head of steam going and are feeling the love for others flow, change the object of the meditation to you by simply changing ‘you’ to ‘I’:
May I be loved and feel love for others.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be safe and protected from danger.
May I be happy, truly happy and free.
Try to love yourself as much during this meditation as you love the other people in your life. Send yourself these loving wishes. You are a good person and as deserving of your love as those other people on your list.
I’ve been doing loving-kindness mediation for years and I love the practice. Giving love to others comes easily for me and is a central value in how I live my life. I even tattooed “Live to Love” on my upper arm last summer.
But I resisted spending loving-kindness
meditation time on myself. My inner
dialogue sounded something like, “Yeah,
yeah, yeah. I love myself already; let’s move on to the good stuff.” I viewed sending myself love as wasted time.
I’ve recently discovered that many of my struggles with anxiety and perfectionism are due to withholding love to me. For years, I’ve loved myself conditionally, only being happy with myself when I meet very aggressive goals and expectations. When I don’t, I give myself all kinds of crap for being lazy or not focused enough.
Over the last month, I’ve focused on sending a lot more love my way. It’s hard sometimes. My mind pushes me to do something ‘more important.’ But as I persevere and stick with it, there has been a distinct softening in my own self-talk. I am much kinder to myself. I am more accepting and forgiving of my own imperfections.
Just do it
Loving-kindness meditation is a proven path to happiness. Use it as discussed last week, and also send that love inward. It can be hard at first; notice when it is and when you judge yourself or feel silly, and then decide to stick with it anyway. No one needs to know you are spending your time this way; do it for yourself, not for anyone else. You may be surprised at how being kind to yourself can make a big difference!
The Happiness Coach