Whenever I ask undergraduate theology students to define love, I am pleased whenever someone suggests that love is more than just a feeling and includes commitment. The intellectual tradition in which Bernard Lonergan participated — the one of Thomas Aquinas — insists that to love is to “will the good” of the beloved.

Lonergan’s student Frederick Crowe said there are two types of love, two ways of willing the good: complacency in the good (willing the good that already IS) and concern for the good (willing the good that SHOULD be). When my undergrads hear the word complacent, they think “apathetic” and “unmotivated.” But the Latin phrase complacentia boni means accepting and delighting in the goodness that already exists. Perhaps the best English word for it is gratitude. When the beloved is another person, complacency is gratitude for the gift of his or her existence. Thus, complacency is much closer to the definition of love that many of my students carry, namely, enjoying the wonderfulness of the other. Although undergrads initially tend to associate love with loving another person (often romantically), complacent love extends beyond just loving people, and at its fullest is a gratefulness for all the goodness reality has to offer.

But, as the astute undergrads point out, love is not just appreciating the goodness of the beloved but committing to bringing goodness into his or her life. So in addition to Crowe’s complacent love defined as gratitude, there is a need for Crowe’s concerned love defined as another G: generosity. Complacency is gratefully cherishing the other, and concern is generously willing the good into their lives, promoting what is best for them and helping them be their best self (physically, psychologically, spiritually). Again, we can love more than people, and loving the world means not only recognizing the gift of what already exists (gratitude) but going on to bring into the world further goodness that does not yet exist (generosity).

Given these definitions, how might one become a better lover? A mindfulness-based behavioral therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) provides a way of encouraging gratitude and generosity through mindfulness and valued action — behaviors “aligned with” one’s core values — respectively. Mindfulness helps cultivate acceptance and ultimately gratitude through nonjudgmental attention to what is, not getting caught up in wishing reality were otherwise. One can cultivate mindfulness through a simple practice of paying attention to one’s breath in the present moment. One develops the ability to accept whatever occurs, including distractions, and return to the breath. Over time, one gains the ability to approach life with this attitude of attentive curiosity, a gateway to gratefulness.

While the “Acceptance” of ACT encourages gratitude, the “Commitment” of ACT enhances generosity. To do this, ACT encourages me to clarify values, that is, specify what I really want to be in life, whether “being a good friend,” “being a devoted parent,” “being an effective teacher,” or whatever my callings might be. Once I have identified what I really value, I should make sure every action I do is “aligned” with these values. Of course, I might misjudge what is truly of value or the best way to live those values, but self-correction can occur along the way. The important thing is that I am constantly trying to live out my commitment to a life of value, bringing more goodness into a world for which I am already grateful.

So the life of love is the life of complacency and concern, gratitude and generosity, mindfulness and valued action, acceptance and commitment. Those interested in ACT can explore Russ Harris’s The Happiness Trap. In my next post, I will elaborate on ACT’s promotion of gratitude and generosity by explaining how the practice of mindfulness enhances one’s ability to live the life of valued action in order to make one more virtuous.

(1) Chapters 3 through 6 of Three Thomist Studies. By Frederick E. Crowe, SJ (Supplementary issue of Lonergan Workshop, vol. 16, edited by Michael Vertin and Frederick Lawrence.) Boston: Boston College, 2000. Pp. xxiv+260. ISBN 0-9700862-0-2

(2) Crowe, Frederick. ‘Complacency and Concern,’ Cross and Crown 11, June 1959, 180-190.

The views expressed in this essay belong entirely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lonergan Institute staff or the values of Boston College.