Gretchen Rubin

What is the real proof of love?

Because I’m on a Flannery O’Connor kick, I ordered A Memoir of Mary Ann, by the Dominican Nuns of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta (1961).

These nuns ran a free cancer home, where Mary Ann Long came to live at age 3. She had a cancerous tumor on her face; one eye had been removed. By the time she died, the tumor had grown so much that she couldn’t eat. She was only supposed to survive six months, but she lived to be twelve.

She must have been quite an extraordinary child. After her death, the nuns approached O’Connor, to try to persuade her to write an account of the little girl. She wouldn’t do it, but she helped shepherd their manuscript to publication and wrote an introduction to it – which is why I happened to hear about it.

It’s an interesting book for several reasons, but what struck me most was the observation, “Apparently [Mary Ann] knew at that early age that the proof of real love is sacrifice.”

That sentence stopped me in my tracks. It’s another way of expressing one of my favorite happiness precepts – Reverdy’s “There is no love, there are only proofs of love” – but more blunt. I asked myself: am I showing my love through sacrifice?

I know that sounds preachy and dramatic, but it’s a good question.

In my life, day to day, that mostly means sacrificing my time, attention, and convenience.

Am I putting down my book to listen to a convoluted account of last night’s bad dream? Am I putting down my magazine to “Watch, watch, watch!” for the tenth time? Am I cheerfully agreeing to pick something up, drop something off, look something up, or re-schedule some date? Am I swallowing my impulse to nag, to criticize, to complain, to point out mistakes?

Not very often. And I sure load myself lots of gold stars when I do. Speaking of nuns, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “When one loves, one does not calculate,” and I’m still trying to shake the habit of counting up all my sacrifices to make sure I get my share in return. “You got to take a nap, so I get to go to the gym.” “I’m dealing with the packing, so you have to deal with the car.”

But there’s a fine line with sacrifice. Sacrificing too much is not good.

My Second Splendid Truth is: One of the best ways to make YOURSELF happy is to make OTHER PEOPLE happy; one of the best ways to make OTHER PEOPLE happy is to be happy YOURSELF.

If I sacrifice too much (realistically, not too much risk of that), if I don’t make sure I have enough time to read the newspaper, etc., it’s going to be hard for me to make anyone else very happy. Having fun and feeling energized make it easier to sacrifice for other people. It might not even feel like a sacrifice.

I loved reading the comments on yesterday's post, to see the life symbols people use: lion, phoenix, daisy, water drop, labyrinth, and all the rest. If you need ideas, or if you just like great lists, a reader thoughtfully posted the link to a website Universal Symbols that lists dozens.

New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog's feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.

icon emailNewsletterLight

One Last Thing

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up to get my free monthly newsletter. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Sign Up Now