People have a hard enough time figuring out what love is, and then there’s unconditional love, which some will argue is the only kind of real love.
Think of love as an action, not a feeling. A feeling is something we get from someone, and when we stop getting it, we often change our behavior somehow. If we have to do something, or be a certain way, in order to receive love, that love is conditional. Instead, if you start thinking of love as the behavior itself, the reward becomes the feeling you get when you act a certain way, not when someone else acts a certain way. And you can continue acting this way all the time, regardless of how other people behave it becomes an act of generosity. Love is not love except when it is generous. Feelings cannot last, but you can renew them continuously with new actions.
Always ask yourself, what is the most loving thing I can do for this particular person in this particular moment? Love isn’t really one size fits all; what might be a loving act toward one person could be harmful to another person, in that it doesn’t help them get closer to becoming a truly happy human being. Unconditional love is a new decision you need to make in every situation, not a hard and fast rule you can apply to everyone all the time.
Remember that love doesn’t mean making sure someone is always comfortable. If you believe loving someone is about fostering their growth, most people acknowledge that pain and discomfort are part of growth, and if you shield someone from all pain or discomfort, you do not love them. So, don’t confuse loving someone with blindly making them comfortable, satisfying their desires, and shielding them from any kind of pain. If you do, you are only making it difficult for them to grow as human beings.
Consider that if love is unconditional, it is given to everyone freely, including you. Another reason the previous step is important is because if you don’t follow it, you’re well on your way to becoming a people pleaser, which means you are not being unconditionally loving to yourself. Instead, recognize the times when doing what is best for you will occasionally have you out of sync with another.
Forgive. Even if someone doesn’t apologize, it inherently loves to both them and yourself to let go of your anger and resentment toward them. Keep in mind that forgiving “is not something we do, but something we are.” Again, don’t mistake being willing to forgive for letting people walk all over you. How you act (lovingly) toward the person will vary, but your ability to practice unconditional love will be clouded if you hold on to negative feelings.
Allow yourself to reap the benefits. If you’ve ever had a moment when you practiced unconditional love, whether spontaneously or deliberately, you probably felt energized and liberated, not drained and burdened. The more often you feel the the former after acting a certain way, the more you’re loving unconditionally.
Love means wishing others to be happy. Love is about what we give not what we get.
Practice doing something for someone each day with love alone. Do it without expecting anything in return. Do it without anyone knowing it. For example, you can pray for your friends or family members who live far away. You can send email, text, or a letter to someone whom you have not been in touch with for quite a while. Give compliments to other people. You can give a smile to a stranger passing by. You can pet your dog or cat. Do small things with great love each day. And watch your heart expand to more love.
Many people feel a sweep of unconditional love upon the birth of a child. That’s not to say everyone does or should, or that you can’t feel it otherwise. It just may be a useful way for some people to remember what unconditional love is supposed to feel like.