Valentine’s Day Through Ancient Eyes: The Three Types of Love by the Greeks

Are you in love, or are you looking for love? Do you love your customers? Do you love your work? Do you love someone? Do you know what love is? In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let’s explore three types of LOVE named by the Greek gods, that impact individuals, businesses and the society.

1. Eros – Physical Love 

The first type of love is called Eros, aka physical love, named after the Greek god of fertility. Eros is the attraction we feel toward other people that makes us want to be near them. It is the spark that ignites a relationship.

The movie The Titanic shows how Eros, a passionate and intense form of love, can take hold of you and possess you, as it did to Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), the leading male character, who died saving Rose (Kate Winslet), his newfound love.

For individuals, the presence of Eros strengthens the bond between two people and fosters closeness, love and affection between couples. It is a significant binder that helps couples iron out their differences. From a scientific angle, chemicals at work during romantic love are oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones that have roles in pregnancy, nursing, and mother-infant attachment. The release of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, provokes feelings of contentment, calmness, and security — we need more.

What are the brands that have capitalised on Eros? Companies like Calvin Klein and Chanel have long used the allure of sensuality and attraction in their advertising, especially in perfume commercials. These brands craft narratives around desire, allure, and intimacy, aiming to make their products synonymous with attractiveness and seduction. Brands such as Victoria’s Secret have similarly utilised the theme of Eros by highlighting beauty, desire, and the appeal of their lingerie through high-profile fashion shows and glossy advertising campaigns, suggesting that their products enhance the wearer’s allure.

According to United Nations data, by 2100, the world’s population is projected to reach approximately 10.9 billion, with annual growth of less than 0.1%, a steep decline from the current rate. This raised the alarm on the loss of workforce potential, pressure on wage increase, and reduced economic growth, posing a formidable fiscal challenge.

Eros might be the solution to slowing the decline of the world’s population. Perhaps businesses should invest in campaigns to promote love on Valentine’s Day instead of selling more products and services. In fact, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long is urging couples to have babies in the year of the Dragon!

2. Philautia – Self-Love

Philautia is the beautiful Greek word for self-love. Self-love is the most important ingredient for our mental health and well-being. It’s about more than liking who we are—it’s about loving ourself and being kind to ourself, as well as being able to practice self-care.

In the journey of self-love, our greatest adversary often lies within: the inner critic. This voice that critiques every decision, casts doubt on our achievements, and magnifies our flaws can be a major barrier to personal growth and happiness. It’s particularly relevant in today’s high-pressure environments where the pursuit of perfection can lead to self-doubt and decreased self-esteem. The inner critic is a construct of our subconscious, formed from external criticisms and failures we’ve experienced over time. It’s intended to protect us from repeating past mistakes but can become overzealous, leading to self-sabotage.

As coaches, we’ve seen many people who are dissatisfied and unhappy with themselves due to their constant self-criticism and a persecutory inner voice that tells them they need to be perfect and how they could’ve done things better at work and in life.  When left unchecked, the inner critic can create a tumultuous inner landscape, impeding decision-making with persistent doubt, eroding self-esteem by magnifying flaws, and stunting personal and professional growth by instilling fear of risk-taking.

To tame the inner critic, here’s what you can do:

  • Acknowledge and Label:Recognise when your inner critic is speaking. Naming this voice can diminish its power, creating a distinction between your true self and this critical inner dialogue.
  • Challenge Negative Thoughts:Question the validity of your inner critic’s statements. Are they based on facts or assumptions? This practice can help you develop a more balanced perspective.
  • Practice Self-Compassion:Treat yourself with the kindness you would offer a friend. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that perfection is an unattainable goal.

Loving ourselves isn’t vanity. It is sanity.

3. Agape – Selfless Love

Agape is the Greek word for selfless love. This type of love is not directed towards a spouse, family or friend. It is a selfless and altruistic kind of love that we show to people who are in need.

In a competitive society, we can be so self-absorbed and self-centred that the idea of agape seems almost foreign to us. Selfless love can be difficult in the workplace because it requires us to be kind and patient with people who may not deserve it. This can be incredibly challenging when we are being treated unfairly or unkindly. Agape is an act of your will, as you choose to respond with kindness instead of anger or retaliation.

Agape can expressed in many ways, such as physical touch, verbal communication, or even time spent with others. We can give our time to others and help them in whatever way we can without expecting anything in return. For example, Across the globe, there are heart-warming stories of individuals donating kidneys, parts of their liver, and even lungs to complete strangers. These acts of selflessness save lives and create unbreakable bonds between donors and recipients, embodying the purest form of love and humanity. Beyond organ donation, countless individuals volunteer in crisis zones, offering their skills, time, and compassion to help those affected by natural disasters, conflicts, or pandemics. These volunteers, often risking their own safety, provide medical care, psychological support, and basic necessities, showcasing Agape through their unwavering commitment to aiding others.

What can we learn from these three different types of love? What are the Greeks really trying to teach us? Like the Greeks, let’s nurture the varieties of love and tap into its many sources. Don’t just seek Eros; cultivate self-love by being kind to yourself, or develop your Agape by helping others. Love comes in many forms. Love is beautiful; love is a practice; it is not something you find or don’t. You can practice love for the rest of your life. 

On this Valentine’s Day, we wish you abundant happiness and love, but above all, we hope you will give others an abundance of love. Happy Valentine’s Day! 🌹

Check out another article on The Greek Way of Love to Increase Employee Engagement.