This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Art of Loving" by Erich Fromm. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .
How do you cultivate love that is genuine rather than false? What does optimism have to do with love?
Developing love isn’t usually all magic and fairytales—it takes work. If you want to develop genuine love, you need to do some work on yourself first.
Here are three bits of advice on how to develop love that’s sincere and genuine.
1. Consider Other Perspectives
The first practice for how to develop love is to consider other perspectives rather than assuming your perspective is the objective truth. This is important because only seeing the world through the lens of your own experience inhibits your ability to love; if you can’t see others for who they really are, how can you genuinely love them for who they are?
To see this practice in action, imagine your partner has been distant. If you only consider the situation from your own perspective, you might assume they’re upset with you for some reason and wonder what you did wrong. However, if you view the situation from their perspective, you might remember that they’ve been particularly stressed at work lately and might just be too exhausted to interact with you. By looking through their eyes, you can see both your partner and the situation more clearly, so you can love them as they are in that moment.
(Shortform note: Seeing things from other people’s perspectives is difficult because we often don’t even realize other people might see the world differently than we do. According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, this is because of the “What You See Is All There Is” bias, or the human tendency to accept our own perspective as fact. To counter this bias, Kahneman recommends asking yourself, “What evidence am I missing? What would make me change my mind?”)
2. Develop Optimism
The second practice Fromm recommends is to develop a type of optimism grounded in reality. In order to fully express genuine love, you have to be optimistic about the power of love to help people grow into the best versions of themselves (so your love won’t go to waste). Furthermore, you have to be optimistic that if you give love to someone, you will be loved in return. If you can’t muster this optimism, you’ll never find the courage to offer your genuine love to another person.
To develop optimism, Fromm recommends beginning by simply noticing your doubts. Then, whenever doubts pop into your mind, practice choosing not to act on them, even when it’s difficult.
|Another Way to Develop Optimism|
The type of optimism that Fromm recommends might be difficult to muster if you’ve been unlucky in love or had experiences where the love you expressed wasn’t returned in kind. Furthermore, his advice to never act on your doubts could backfire, since some doubts may be a sign of some very real red flags that might signal an unhealthy relationship.
If you’re skeptical about the idea of optimism in love or concerned about the impact of ignoring your doubts, here’s an alternative exercise to develop your faith in love. First, take a deep breath—notice how you can trust the air around you to provide all the oxygen you need. Then, picture someone who loves you. Imagine their love surrounding you, just as the air does, and try to trust it the way you trust the air to give you what you need. Finally, picture someone you love deeply. Allow yourself to feel the strength of your love for this person. Remind yourself that you can trust your own love, no matter what.
3. Live Intentionally
Finally, Fromm argues that in order to practice genuine love, you need to live intentionally rather than passively accepting your circumstances. To do this, actively embrace life: Zealously pursue your interests, be mindful of your surroundings and your own inner states, and focus on becoming the best possible version of yourself. The more time you spend living in this focused, intentional way, the better you’ll be able to see others for exactly who they are and actively show them genuine love.
(Shortform note: To Fromm, intentional living means eschewing laziness at all costs; however, he forgets that humans also need periods of downtime and rest. While actively pursuing your best life is a helpful overall goal, energy and attention aren’t infinite resources—if you don’t give yourself time to recharge them, you could face burnout, which will make it even harder to live intentionally.)
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving" at Shortform .
Here's what you'll find in our full The Art of Loving summary :
- Why you might be wrong about what you think of as love
- Why so many people are unhappy, despite having all their basic needs met
- How to genuinely love others to become happier and less isolated