What is Love? Defining hope, faith, love and belonging

If I were to ask you - what does it mean to have hope, to belong, to have faith - what would you say? Some of us might have answers, and others might struggle to put these definitions into words. And even if we have an idea of what it means, or a sense of these words, bringing more clarity helps us better understand ourselves and those around us.


On Our Favorite Non Self-Help Books for Wellness blog, the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown caught my attention because of the definitions provided. They were deep, thoughtful, and easy to read. But the author herself will be the first to tell you (as she does in the book), that “everyone who risks explaining love and belonging is hopefully doing the best they can to answer an unanswerable question. Myself included.” So the definitions that are shared in the book and in this blog post are not the be all, end all. Not at all. They are, however, helping me bring more clarity to who I am, what I value, and what I believe in. I hope they do the same for you.

(All quotes below are from the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown.) 

What is Hope?

“Like most people, I always thought of hope as an emotion-like a warm feeling of optimism and possibility. I was wrong. I was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of what Snyder calls a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency. In very simple terms, hope happens when

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).

  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I'm persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).

  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).

So, hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities.

And, if that's not news enough, here's something else: Hope is learned! ...It's not a crapshoot. It's a conscious choice.

The first time I read this, I quickly looked up more research about hope to see if it supported this idea that hope is primarily a thought process. The research I found concurred. I started to wonder, why then was it so difficult for me to experience hope. I thought - “If I could just change my thought process, I could feel hopeful.” Aha! There lies the difficulty: changing my thought process. Not so easy, especially when I have ample life experience telling me “no, you can’t have that” or “it still won’t work out, why bother.” This is where I find myself having to put my faith into my meditation practice, the very thing that is helping me shift the way I relate to my thoughts and feelings so that I can move towards thoughts of hope.

What is Faith? 

Speaking of faith, this is how Brene Brown describes it: “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”  

When it comes to my meditation practice, I have to have the courage to believe in something that I cannot see, like the idea of the blue sky behind dark clouds that represent my emotions. I also had to let go of the fear of uncertainty when I first started my practice. The uncertainty I felt about whether or not it would help me gave me pause to meditating regularly but letting go of that fear allowed me to try it and find out if it helps me (it does).

The topic of faith, however,  is tough for me. I grew up going to church but I have moved away from organized religion and have since been trying to figure out what it is that I believe. When I say to people “I’m spiritual,” I haven’t quite figured out what that means yet. While I agree with the core tenants of most religions (i.e. love), it is difficult for me when the preaching doesn’t match the practice. That’s why I was drawn to Brene’s definition of love.

What is Love?

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” 

I really like this idea of love roots and that love is practiced, not spoken. One thing that I would personally add to this definition is:  Love roots can be damaged beyond repair even if the injury is rare, it just depends on the injury.

I’ve learned through experience that I have boundaries, and if those are disrespected and crossed, I can only heal if I move away from the person who did it. If they apologize, I would of course accept but still not stay. Forgiving does not mean staying. And if they don’t apologize, I still work to forgive them and move away.  

Something that Brene has found is that Love and Belonging go hand in hand. And while we often mistake belonging as fitting in, it is quite different.

“If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”.png

What does it mean to belong?

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

The idea that belonging is innate makes sense to me. Even if I was often not accepted into the mainstream crowds (growing up I related to adults easier), I still wanted to belong to a group, just a group who had similar interests to mine. Living in a diverse co-op during college could not have been a more beautiful experience of belonging. Some people were locals, others internationals, some people loved loud parties, others preferred a quiet evening,  etc. and yet we all shared a common binding - loving everyone for who they are. So when I was always studying, they didn’t hold it against me and didn’t make me feel bad about it (of course, now I know how important it is to prioritize my meaningful relationships and I do). I feel lucky to have experienced that sort of acceptance and I continue to look for similar type of people - those who like my authentic self - to belong with, rather than trying to fit in with those who don’t.

Brene writes a lot about authenticity in this book but the quote that has stayed the longest with me is this: “If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

So, how do these definitions resonate with you? What would you keep, edit out, expand, modify? Let us know in the comments.

Wishing you well, dear reader.

Till next time.



Anna is a blog contributor, meditation leader and teacher, and photographer. You can follow her on Instagram @skillsforwellness and find her blogging away at reset brain + body. reset brain + body is a mental wellness practice where traditional talk therapy is elevated through the integration of meditation, nutrition, yoga and mindfulness. Connect with reset brain + body on Instagram & Facebook, check out the class schedule, or contact us to book an appointment.