The phrase “follow your heart” may seem empty and trite, a hippie platitude that people use as an excuse or meaningless encouragement. But is there any truth to it? That would depend on what you mean by “heart”.
Aside from the hollow muscular organ that keeps you alive, there are a few meanings for the word. It can be a central part of something, such as an artichoke heart, or a vital piece of a whole. In terms of personality, though, the heart is usually associated with empathy. It seems to refer to the concept of a subconscious core in which love, courage, and other positive attributes are founded.
Often we contrast the heart against the mind, as if you have to choose to go with one or the other. But I think there are three factors at work, and they all go together.
At a very basic level, we have the conscience, where your innate knowledge of right and wrong comes from. In the vast majority of people, this part works perfectly fine. Even if someone is capable of committing a horrible crime like murder, they may still know very well how wrong it is. This is because of empathy, as I explained in my article on Why Killing People is Not Okay. Aside from people like sociopaths who don’t empathize, just about everyone has a reliable built-in compass that points them to what is good and right. Since the conscience produces empathy and morality, it is what prompts you to act in love, or courage, or other positive ways. All of these things are what we wrap up in a neat little package and call the “heart”.
The mind is easier to corrupt, because you can reason yourself into believing just about anything, even if it goes against your conscience.
The third factor is the will, and it’s the easiest to corrupt because it’s what you actually do. It rewards itself; when you will yourself to buy chocolate, you buy chocolate. You don’t end up buying chocolate merely because your heart tells you it is good, or because you reasonably think that it would be nice to have. You end up buying it because you will yourself to. Nothing you do is against your will, since by definition you must will yourself to do something in order to do it. However, you can certainly do things that go against your conscience and even your reason.
This is what I think it means to follow your heart. The conscience is the most reliable, because you can’t willfully manipulate it, you can only silence it with reason. As long as you have a working conscience, you may be able to commit a crime, but you will feel that what you are doing is wrong.
Human evil is found most in the will, and second in the mind. So don’t just blindly “follow your heart” in whatever direction you want because that’s actually following your will, not your heart. Learn to distinguish the two, and align your will and your reason with what your heart says is right.