In 1985 a brand new artist named Whitney Houston captivated the world with a new album called “Greatest Love of All,” an album that I believe represents some of Houston’s best work. In the title song, Whitney strikes an emotional high note in the reprise, “I found the greatest love of all inside of me…the greatest love of all is easy to achieve; learning to love yourself that is the greatest love of all.” This anthem to self-love hit Billboard’s top 10 and eventually topped the charts in 1986, peaking at number one in the United States, Australia, Canada and on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in early 1986. The song’s popularity brings to sharp focus the importance of self-love, and loving oneself and learning to love oneself. But how do you learn to love yourself?
Let’s take the example of former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammed Ali, who was the inspiration behind this song. Michael Masser and Linda Creed wrote the song in 1976 for the movie, The Greatest, chronicling the life of Ali who lost everything in life, including his boxing title, but refused to give up his beliefs and his dignity. That is self-love. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Masser said he was inspired by Ali: Here was a man who wanted to change his name and religion. That’s all. Ali hadn’t believed in the war in Vietnam and had refused to fight in it. He won that battle through the legal system. Still, he lost everything—including his title. But Ali retained the most important thing of all—his dignity. His self-love. Masser himself gave up his lucrative legal career to pursue his dream of composing music, facing financial and family struggles before he finally made it. Linda Creed, who wrote the lyrics, was recovering from breast cancer and described in keen and nuanced ways the importance of self-love and wellbeing, with a particular focus on youth being the future and helping them to find self-love.
Loving yourself means making yourself a priority and attending to your well-being and happiness. It doesn’t mean being selfish but it does mean respecting one’s self enough to take good care of yourself —physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This self-love is critical to building the physical and emotional resilience you need to face adversity. Putting your own wellbeing first means attending to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for your own self, or attending to the lower hierarchy of needs on the pyramid and going each level up to achieve the higher purpose of self actualization:
First comes the physical aspects of your life. Taking care of your health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet is important. Good physical health is a fundamental first step to wellbeing. Which is why I am selfish about my early mornings and my commitment to my workouts. I almost always never compromise on my workouts. And when I do, I pay the price in terms of my stress and my mindset. Similarly, I ensure that I eat at least 5-8 servings of vegetables, fruits, and grains and a multi-vitamin every single day. Check out our tips for some basic exercise one can do everyday.
Second on the hierarchy of needs is safety and security and or having gainful employment, having food, shelter, clothes. Ensuring that you are financially secure, taking care of your finances, paying bills on time, setting time aside to manage your rainy day funds and retirement savings, paying off your home mortgage, are all important and ensure that your safety and security for yourself is well managed. Check out some tips for financial management here.
Third on the hierarchy of needs is love and belonging. Having healthy relationships with family and friends who support you and reinforce the positive is essential to feeling a sense of belonging and self-love. In this respect being part of an inclusive culture and being inclusive yourself helps enhance the sense of belonging. I find that surrounding myself with people who inspire me and encourage me is key to my emotional wellbeing, and de-prioritizing relationships that evoke negativity and shaming is key to ensuring a sense of optimism and positivity.
Fourth on the list is self esteem and self acceptance. From respecting your unique strengths and leveraging them to celebrating your body type and recognizing and accepting your areas for development is the next step up in achieving self-love. Confidence and self-worth comes from self-acceptance and is important to retaining your dignity and constitutes self-love. For example, I know that my strengths lie in my vision and my creativity and my bias for action, but excellence in process is not my strength. I would never make it big as a black belt in process excellence, but I have learned to accept it and hire members on my team who are better at it than I am. This allows me to focus on my strengths and be confident and accomplish my goals.
Fifth is self actualization—which is achieving one’s full potential in life. This is beyond self-love. Maslow defined self-actualization to be “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for [the individual] to become actualized in what he [she] is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” In simpler words, most psychology text books describe it as “the full realization of one’s potential” and of one’s “true self.”
We all have the potential to be our best selves—find self-love, our personal SEEMA—the limit, the self, the most possible. But the first step to realizing our SEEMA and going beyond limits is to find that self love that makes it all possible to find one’s best self!
Also read about self love through the eyes of a teenager.
- Maslow (1943) Psychological Review 50, pp. 370-396.A Theory of Human Motivation
- Gleitman, Henry; Fridlund, Alan J. and Reisberg Daniel. Psychology. 6th ed. New York: Norton & Company, 2004.