What Is The World’s Love Language?

Maybe we should hug more trees.

Being in touch with nature, touching leaves, hugging trees, toes in sand, dancing in the rain kotijelly, Dmitriy Ganin, Nastco, shley Solberg, Lorryn Smit Photography, elijah_sad | Canva

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to live a life of service. It matters to me deeply that the work I do serves more than just myself, and that the decisions I make are informed by the needs of the world, not just my own.

I want to care for the world and tend to what’s around me. I want to reduce suffering when and where I can. I want to be of help.

But lately, I find myself wondering: Is that really the most loving way I can live?


You see, I’d like to think my drive to be of service comes from a deeper, more authentic place than the urge to be morally "good" in the eyes of my society. I want to believe my drive to be of service is motivated by my love for the world. Service can be an act of love, after all. But it isn’t always loving.


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My love language sure isn’t acts of service. Why do I just assume that service is what’s loving to the world?

I make the assumption, of course, because I’ve been taught that being of service is noble and good. This is what my society believes is righteous, and so I find it easy not to question it. I do think there is value in acts of service to the world. I do think they can be authentically loving.

And yet, I also wonder if there’s space in our conceptions of human goodness for other love languages to be centered.

What if we lived our lives showering the world with words of affirmation? What about touch? What about simply taking quality time with the world, sitting and being present with it, giving it our undivided attention and total acceptance?


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In the colonized West, we don’t give much attention to loving the world.

Our culture doesn’t center on traditions of giving thanks (beyond one very commercialized holiday), engaging in deep presence, or taking time to touch and tend to the world around us. But in healthier cultures than this one, such acts of love are often central to social organization.

Take the traditions of Thanksgiving, for instance. What is the practice of giving gratitude but treating the world to words of affirmation? Cultures all over the world center Thanksgiving as a vital part of collective practice, seeing that life is made that much richer by practicing gratitude for the world and all it offers.


In Malaysia, there’s an annual festival to give thanks for rice — rice is seen as the bedrock of life and an extension of the Creator. In Ghana, there’s a festival to give thanks for the yam harvest. The Haudenosaunee tradition of the Thanksgiving Address sings the praises of the natural world and all her gifts to us, centering the importance of verbally affirming love and respect for the world.

In many Indigenous cultures in North America, as in many cultures all over the world, making gifts to the world is of critical importance. Offering tobacco ties is a sacred act of giving something back to the Earth that gives us so much. In the Indian practice of puja, offerings of flowers, food, and incense are crucial to the act of worship.

From Japan, we get the now world-famous mindfulness fad of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Forest bathing is really nothing more complex than walking in the woods and being present with the atmosphere. It is, in a way, simply spending quality time with the world.

In my hometown of San Diego, we have a similar unspoken tradition: if you’re on the beach at sunset, you shut up and watch it. It would be a serious cultural faux pas to do anything other than be present with the sunset before you. Hiking, birdwatching, even a sightseeing tour bus — all these are acts of spending quality time with the world, present with the sights and sounds and beings all around.


And then, we have actions like sunbathing and swimming, hugging trees and wiggling our toes in the sand, running our fingers along the tops of hedges, or dancing in the rain. All these are loving acts of touch — touching this world, letting it touch us, feeling the intimacy between our bodies and the Earth that gave rise to them. Embodied connection with this planet is an act of love, too.

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In each and all of these traditions of connection with the Earth, there exists an understanding that the way we show love for the world impacts how we live within it.

Every part of our world is a part of the Earth — the people, the forests, the buildings, and the birds. In a culture that only sees acts of service as a legitimate means of loving the world, love becomes confused with duty. We can so easily forget that service is an act of devotion, not a set of obligations.


But what if we believed that all the world’s love languages were important to honor? How much richer would our lives become? It would be so much sweeter then, to act in service, knowing this is not the only way to demonstrate my love for the world but simply one of many.

Because the thing about love is, it’s a quality of a relationship. When we love the world, we enter into a loving relationship and we experience that love, too. The tree I hug touches me back. The sunset I watch shines upon me too. The world I serve and tend to serves me in return.

I wonder if, in singing all my praises for the world, she might give gratitude for me too. We’ve forgotten for far too long to say "thank you." Maybe that’s what the world needs to hear:


Thank you, for all that you are. Thank you, for all that you give. I love you. Thank you for loving me, too.

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Anna Mercury is a writer and community organizer, originally from California.