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What Is Love?

"Love requires you to be physically and emotionally present. It also requires that you slow down."
“Love requires you to be physically and emotionally present. It also requires that you slow down.”

What better day is there than today to explore love? In Love 2.0, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson looks under the hood to explore love.

She begins by exploring longing before connecting it to love.

“Longing,” writes Fredrickson, “is that feeling that courses through your body just before you decide that you’re restless, lonely, or unhappy.”

This isn’t just another mental state. It transcends intangibles and peeks into the physical world. You’re missing something and you crave it.

Sometimes you can numb this ache with a deep dive into work, gossip, television, or gaming. More often than not, though, these and other attempts to fill the aching void are merely temporary distractions.

These, however, are only temporary distractions. The feeling abates only temporarily while you change your focus. The minute you lose that new focus it comes back, which makes distractions, including the third and fourth glasses of wine, even more appealing.

Odds are you have all the food and water you need. What you long for, Fredrickson argues, is far more intangible: love.

Whether you’re single or not, whether you spend your days largely in isolation or steadily surrounded by the buzz of conversation, love is the essential nutrient that your cells crave: true positivity-charged connection with other living beings.

Love, as it turns out, nourishes your body the way the right balance of sunlight, nutrient-rich soil, and water nourishes plants and allows them to flourish. The more you experience it, the more you open up and grow, becoming wiser and more attuned, more resilient and effective, happier and healthier. You grow spiritually as well, better able to see, feel, and appreciate the deep interconnections that inexplicably tie you to others, that embed you within the grand fabric of life.

Just as your body was designed to extract oxygen from the earth’s atmosphere, and nutrients from the foods you ingest, your body was designed to love. Love— like taking a deep breath or eating an orange when you’re depleted and thirsty— not only feels great but is also life-giving, an indispensable source of energy, sustenance, and health.

But what is love?

Love is our supreme emotion that makes us come most fully alive and feel most fully human. It is perhaps the most essential emotional experience for thriving and health.

Love is an emotion.

First and foremost, love is an emotion, a momentary state that arises to infuse your mind and body alike. Love, like all emotions, surfaces like a distinct and fast-moving weather pattern, a subtle and ever-shifting force. As for all positive emotions, the inner feeling love brings you is inherently and exquisitely pleasant — it feels extraordinarily good, the way a long, cool drink of water feels when you’re parched on a hot day. Yet far beyond feeling good, a micro-moment of love, like other positive emotions, literally changes your mind. It expands your awareness of your surroundings, even your sense of self. The boundaries between you and not-you — what lies beyond your skin — relax and become more permeable. While infused with love you see fewer distinctions between you and others. Indeed, your ability to see others — really see them, wholeheartedly — springs open. Love can even give you a palpable sense of oneness and connection, a transcendence that makes you feel part of something far larger than yourself.

The love I speak of here is also far from exclusive. It’s not just that unique feeling you reserve for your spouse or your romantic partner. It even extends beyond your warm feelings for your children, parents, or close friends. Love can reach so much further than we typically allow. In fact, no one—young or old, passionate or reserved, single or married—need be excluded.

Perhaps counterintuitively, love is far more ubiquitous than you ever thought possible for the simple fact that love is connection. It’s that poignant stretching of your heart that you feel when you gaze into a newborn’s eyes for the first time or share a farewell hug with a dear friend. It’s even the fondness and sense of shared purpose you might unexpectedly feel with a group of strangers who’ve come together to marvel at a hatching of sea turtles or cheer at a football game. The new take on love that I want to share with you is this: Love blossoms virtually anytime two or more people — even strangers — connect over a shared positive emotion, be it mild or strong.

Inside the body, love is a momentary “upwelling of three interwoven events:”

first, a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second, a synchrony between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors; and third, a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.

Love comes in pairs:

Odds are, if you were raised in a Western culture, you think of emotions as largely private events. You locate them within a person’s boundaries, confined within their mind and skin. When conversing about emotions, your use of singular possessive adjectives betrays this point of view. You refer to ‘my anxiety,’ ‘his anger,’ or ‘her interest.’ Following this logic, love would seem to belong to the person who feels it. Defining love as positivity resonance challenges this view. Love unfolds and reverberates between and among people — within interpersonal transactions — and thereby belong to all parties involved, and to the metaphorical connective tissue that binds them together, albeit temporarily

All of this brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s quote: “The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.”

Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection goes on to explore why love matters more than we think. Fredrickson argues that it is the key to happiness and optimism, which improves our physical as well as mental heath. Indeed, she argues that love lengthens our lives.

If you’re still curious check out her Young Minds talk below.