When I was a little girl I was very fond of a bubble-gum called “Love is”. Every package contained a drawing and an example of an act associated with love- for instance “ love is squeezing lemon in his tea”. I found the whole package very appealing, however at that point couldn`t quite grasp how this exactly linked to love. Later I found out that this understanding is something that evolves in a course of a lifetime. Let`s have another look at it today.
So, following the introduction to positive emotions and the benefits that experiencing them bring, let’s zoom into one of the most important ones – Love.
So what is love? Some common perceptions of love are that it is exclusive; without finding it you are incomplete; it is a sort of an achievement; it involves serious commitment… Do these resonate with you? Our existing views of love inarguably serve us well, but it is such a profound emotion that it deserves to also be looked through a different lens.
Let’s start with what is NOT love. Love is not sexual desire, passion, romance, commitment, exclusivity or even something that necessarily lasts for a lifetime.
And what does science say about love? First, Love is a positive emotion that we mostly co-experience in the company of others. It is about investing in the well-being of another person without anything at stake. It is also a feeling that “you get me” and “I get you”. Looking at it scientifically, it can be defined as “interpersonally situated experience marked by momentary increases in shared positive emotions, behavioral syncronomity and mutual care.” The subsequent “products” of love are improved rapport with the person, forming social bonds and commitment.
If we honestly think about it we are not “chronically” invested in the well-being of others, and we can`t say that we “love” the whole time if we strictly follow the definitions above. What does this mean? That’s where emotional science kicks in.
According to emotional science and more specifically positive psychology love blossoms every time when two people connect over a shared positive emotion. This is closely linked to the concept of “Positivity resonance” which effectively is a “co-experience” of positive emotions; a micro moment of connection when a positive emotion unfolds for both of you, between and amongst you at the same time (more about the background of positivity resonance can be found here- link).
Similar to its siblings from the positive emotion family, love also has a “broaden and build component”(for those of you who need a recap of “broaden and build- you can find it here (paste link)-it has a momentary effect based on which we build and expand.
Research has shown that practicing a certain type of meditation called Lovingkindness meditation (an ancient Buddhist meditation which practice involves generation of gentle, caring and warm feelings towards oneself and others) results in improved vagal tone (variation of heart rate when we breathe in and out) which predicts better immune function, cardiovascular health, glucose regulation and last but not least – social skills!
Now that we cover the positivity psychology view of love let`s think about the practical insights:
1) The experience of love is dynamic and not static and it is in our hands to maintain it!
2) Our hearts literally become more responsive to our breath as we experience loving feeling towards others which has huge benefits for not only our health but also our social skills and creativity.
3) Pay more attention to the little positive emotions that you experience and that you usually tend to trivialize- they can enhance not only improve the quality of your relationships, but also your well-being.
4) Never forget that love is not a relationship status – it is a verb, and an action that requires attention. Your attention.
I`ll end here with a beautiful quote by Ursula Le Guin which was also mentioned in the course:
” Love doesn`t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new”