The first part of his comment became almost painfully relevant as I set out to research this article about the positive psychology’s character strength of “Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved.” Seemingly everybody does write about love!
Happily, the most visible writer on love these days happens to be one of positive psychology’s brightest lights, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a specialist on positive emotions. In fact, her recent book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, was even highlighted in an article in this year’s Valentines issue of O, the Oprah magazine.
And the acclaim she’s receiving is for good reasons. Her research gives us some interesting new perspectives on love.
In this brief YouTube clip, Dr. Fredrickson describes what her new book tells us:
The book, by the way, is as engrossing and inspiring as it is scientific, and well worth the read.
What Love is Not
At first glance, Fredrickson’s research can feel a little disconcerting because it dispels some of our common and fondly held notions about love. It demonstrates, for instance that love is not:
- Sexual desire
- A special bond
- A commitment
- Lasting, or
Instead, she says, it’s a “micro-moment of shared positivity” between people. And that moment can occur between soul mates or between strangers, between two individuals or in a group.
Long-lasting bonds and commitments can evolve from these special, shared micro-moments, and cultivating shared micro-moments of positivity can nourish them. But they are separate things.
If you’re willing to set aside your pre-existing beliefs about love while you listen to what she has to say, however, you’ll discover that instead of limiting love, her findings make more love accessible to us all.
The Micro-Moments of Love
The micro-moments of shared positivity that Dr. Fredrickson describes are powerful packets of nourishment for our bodies and souls. Like all positive emotions—gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and joy—love literally broadens our awareness. Under the influence of positive emotions, we see a wider range of the landscape around us. We take in more information and see more possibilities. Our perception expands to include the other; we’re more likely to think in terms of “we” then in terms of “me versus you.”
The beautiful thing about these micro-moments of love is that you can share them with anyone – even a coworker or a stranger in a check-out line – building your store of love on a cellular level, enhancing your health and expanding your experience of the joy of life.
Micro-moments of love happen when we share a positive emotion with someone else. We connect with and mirror each other. Our brains and our gestures synchronize and a resonance develops between us. Add to this a mutual motivation to contribute to each other’s well-being, and voila! You have love. And it nourishes your growth and health more powerfully than any other source of positivity.
Two conditions are necessary for these micro-moments to happen. First, you must feel safe. And secondly, according to what Fredrickson told science writer Emily Estafan Smith for her article in The Atlantic, you have to physically be in the same space . “For example,” Smith’s article says, “if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless.”
Love is a biological dynamic. And Fredrickson’s research details its neurochemical workings.
Smile Power and Long-Term Loving
The connection starts with a smile, followed by eye contact. Eye contact lets your brain mimic the subtle musculature of the other person’s smile and understand its meaning. Then, as you engage with the other person in a shared positive emotion of some kind, a resonance builds between you. Your brains and bodies begin to do a mirror dance. And you find yourself feeling elevated, open, and connected. In other words, you’re experiencing one of those micro-moments of love.
Smile, make eye contact, share a positive experience, and a moment of love is yours.
If you’re in a long-term, committed relationship, you can use this knowledge to keep the spark between you and your partner alive. Instead of complacently taking your love for granted, you can intentionally cultivate it – every day. Make a point of smiling at your partner and of looking her in the eyes as you share moments of positivity—of interest, gratitude, inspiration, amusement or joy.
And what about those times when smiles are hard to come by? What about the times when life is hard or tragedies strike? “Love doesn’t require that you ignore or suppress negativity,” Fredrickson says in a special article for CNN.
“It simply requires that some element of kindness, empathy or appreciation be added to the mix. Compassion is the form love takes when suffering occurs.” In tough times, let your smile be a sympathetic one, and the shared emotion one of kindness and warmth.
Building Your Capacity for Love
One way to increase your capacity to love and receive love is simply to keep a journal of the loving encounters you experience throughout your day. Practice smiling, eye contact and positive engagement with other people and make a brief note about what happened and how it felt.
Another wonderful way of building your capacity for more love is to learn to practice loving-kindness meditation. In fact, one of the key findings of Fredrickson’s research is that our biological capacity for experiencing positivity resonance, once thought a fixed attribute, can be increased by practicing loving-kindness meditation for scarcely more than an hour a week for a few months.
The video below will walk you through the basic practice. And for an in-depth description of the stages people transit while practicing it, I recommend Sharon Salzberg’s wonderful audiobook, Lovingkindness Meditation
As my high school friend said, although everybody writes about love, nobody ever has. To feel its beauty and power is an experience that will forever remain beyond words. But Fredrickson’s work is a worthy foray into its mysteries and holds some practical keys for ushering more love into our lives.
For more clues about how to make more love in your life, see:
- Appreciation: Relationship’s Golden Key
- The Price of a Great Relationship? Paying Attention
- Building Strong Relationships: Do You Take the Time?
And if you found this article of value, please do share it. It’s the loving thing to do.Photo by lusi at stock.xchng