I’ve officially been a “Mrs.” For 6 months, 8 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes, and 24, 25, 26 seconds. On May 28th in front of family, friends, and, thanks to our parents’ extensive guest lists, about 60 other people I barely knew (but was glad they were there), our carefully crafted ceremony ended with the quote, “Love each other and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”

After hours of scrimmaging through online databases of quotes on marriage, love and friendship I happened upon this decidedly simple yet very poignant message.  To me, it says three things. First, loving someone, oneself included, is an active process. It is a choice we make, and it requires our conscious decision to do so. Second, despite the simplicity of the statement, choosing to love someone, choosing to accept that person wholly with all his or her faults can be effortful. Third, love can lead to happiness.

As much as that quote applies to married life, I chose it because it is also highly applicable to the relationship people have with themselves. In our complicated adult world filled with anger, disappointment, fear, and shame, making the choice to love ourselves can be difficult. More than any other person in our lives, we see all the shortcomings, all the faults, and all the bad decisions, and we dissect and analyze them to the point that they define us. It’s often easier to believe that we are unworthy of love, and that we are deserving of all the bad things that happen to us. It’s often easier to ward off disappointment by viewing oneself as a failure, but this way of thinking does not lead to happiness.

To choose to love oneself is perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves. To do so is to say, “I believe in my own worth.” When we overlook our flaws, and forgive our indiscretions, when we seek out our strengths and focus on all that we have to offer the world, we put ourselves in a position where choosing to love ourselves is easy. Too often in life, we are taught to set low expectations to ward off disappointment. ‘You’ll be happily surprised if things turn out better than you thought,’ we are told. But if we repeatedly expect disappointment in our lives, if we are repeatedly choose to believe we are inferior and don’t think we are worthy or loveable, we create an environment ready to confirm our deepest fears.

When I was younger I remember someone telling me “You have to learn to love yourself before anyone else can love you.” While I don’t think this is entirely true, I do believe that people who love themselves and are at peace with themselves are more open to accepting love from others. If I have a hard time finding redeeming qualities about me it’s going to be difficult allowing people into my life who do. Likewise, when you love yourself, you exude an air of confidence and pride that others pick up on. Tell someone you possess a certain quality, whether it’s true or not, and others are likely to see that quality in you. Love yourself, and others will follow suit.

The best thing about learning to love oneself is that it often leads us to act in ways that confirm our worthiness. Think about this. Imagine the last time you were feeling down or even outright depressed. What did you do all day? If I am sad, I often lie around feeling lethargic, cry on and off (sometimes I don’t even know about what), and put off completing things on my to-do list or reconnecting with friends. At the end of the day, when I look back and think about what I’ve accomplished, I come up with a big, fat zero. My behavior throughout the day only serves to make me more depressed and the depression only leads me to behave in more counterproductive ways. It’s quite the vicious cycle. Now imagine this same process occurring but on a day when you feel great about life and about yourself.

In a way, by controlling our actions, we have a lot of power over how we see ourselves. By choosing to act in ways that reinforce our worthiness, we build up a store of positive feelings that lead us to behave in more life-affirming ways. Remember what I said at the beginning about this process being effortful, well here is where that effort comes into play. Choosing to act in a manner consistent with loving oneself will be extremely difficult if you don’t already love yourself. Just like choosing to act happy is hard when you’re depressed, choosing to treat yourself with kindness will be hard if you don’t feel worthy of such kindness. But it’s something that must be done, one small step at a time.

During this holiday season, let’s work on extending the same good will toward ourselves that we so eagerly hand out to others. Love yourself and you will be happy; it’s as simple and as difficult as that.