Love 2.0. What is Love Anyway?
Valentine’s Day is the day we celebrate romantic love. There are other types of love eg. storge is love based on friendship, agape is the selfless love concerned with others’ wellbeing, ludus, the pleasant, shallow love based on mutual enjoyment rather than commitment and pragma, based on pragmatism is about the search for someone who ticks all the boxes in your checklist. If you’re single you may be feeling somewhat excluded from the annual lovefest, but new research on the science of love goes far to liberate the L word from the clutches of canoodling couples. Love is not exclusive, as Prof Barbara Fredrickson has found. Instead love is a brief momentary connection which can happen between any two people – even strangers.
In Love 2.0 Fredrickson, the renowned researcher on positive emotions, suggests that we need to upgrade our view of love. We all know that love matters but maybe not how much. More than optimism or happiness, love holds the key to improving our mental and physical health. Love nourishes the body and mind and the more you experience it, the more you open up and grow, becoming more resilient, effective, happier and healthier in the process.
But what is love anyway? You already know it’s not exclusive and surprisingly it turns out it doesn’t last either – that’s a bond rather than love. Love is the supreme positive emotion and as such it obeys the laws of positive emotions. So like joy or calm or bliss it is a fleeting experience – here one moment and gone the next. The good news is that it’s a renewable resource, which means that you can ‘bank’ it to draw on later and even though it consists of short-lived experiences, it will accumulate to create sustainable bonds. Regardless of our many cultural definitions of love, the body only recognises one – love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being. ‘Positivity resonance’ is the scientific term and there are 3 factors present that let you know it’s occurring. You mirror each other with a shared experience of positive emotions, with matching biochemistry and a mutual impulse to care for one another. This can happen anytime anywhere – with a friend, workmate, a neighbour, a fellow passenger and as I’ve experienced repeatedly, a cheerful train conductor!
There are preconditions for this loving connection to occur, a feeling of safety maybe goes without saying, but the most interesting of these seems to be physical presence. When two people come together they begin to ‘sync up’ mirroring each other’s physiological responses in the brain and body. People merge in a loving connection – from a sense of ‘me’ to ‘we’. Eye contact is the most powerful trigger for this sense of oneness so being physically in the same space is the key to the loving connection. Online dating and long-distance relationships have this obstacle to navigate. The ripple of love can spread too, passing through groups as it does between two people.
So the question is how can you develop more of this positive emotion with all its associated benefits if you’re not currently in a relationship? As a starter Barbara Fredrickson suggests a simple twist on the classic positive psychology tool – three good things. Think of three of your longest social interactions in the day and reflect on how close and in tune you felt to that other person. Then rate the encounter on a scale from 1 – not at all true to 7 – very true. When you do this exercise regularly you begin to appreciate the people you truly enjoy being around and feel inspired to enhance those positive connections. Simply prioritising a relationship – such as spending time with that person – will help to nurture the relationship.
The ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation (LKM) comes with a high recommendation from Fredrickson. It warms the heart and opens us up for love. LKM involves directing loving-kind thoughts to yourself as self-love and towards others as a form of goodwill. The practice helps generate feelings of warmth and well-being all around. It is a powerful way to self-generate a whole host of positive emotions. As well as love, people experience more joy, serenity, engagement and amusement. LKM produces such a quantity and variety of positive emotions that it can even outpace the hedonic treadmill, the phenomenon where we begin to take the things we love and the people we love for granted. The practice seems to transform people from the inside out. So spread the love this Valentine’s Day and let people know you appreciate them.
Barbara Fredrickson has kindly shared resources from her book Love 2.0 at www.positivityresonance.com