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What is Love?

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April 27, 2016
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Love may, at times, be a feeling of being romantically swept away.

Love might be the heartfelt connection when you’re with your children or your extended family.

It could be times with dear friends who have stood by you in times of trouble or joy.

Maybe love is a feeling of compassion for the world and the millions who struggle just to survive day-by-day.

Psychology professor Barbara Frederickson says, first and foremost, love is an emotion, a momentary state that arises and infuses your mind and body.

As with all positive emotions, the inner feeling that love brings you is exquisitely pleasant, says Frederickson, who is director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Yet far beyond feeling good, like other positive emotions, love literally changes your mind, she says. It expands your awareness of your surroundings, and even your sense of self.

The Advantage of Learning to Link Peak Loving Experiences

The fleeting nature of emotions applies to love.

“No emotion is built to last, not even the ones that feel so good,” says Frederickson.

Moments of love are best measured in seconds or minutes, not months or years, Frederickson says in an article in Psychotherapy Networker, “Why Loves Depends on Shared Connection, Safety and Mutual Care.”

Describing the connection of loving interactions as “positive resonance,” she points to the healthy physical and emotional effects of this energy exchange.

“Love alters the unseen activity within your body and brain in ways that trigger parallel changes within another person’s body and brain,” says Frederickson.

Love extends beyond personal boundaries to characterize the vibe that pulsates between and among people, she says. It can even energize whole social networks.

The healing and inspiring energy of love can be ignited so that loving feelings and positive brain patterns can occur more often. Here are some ways Frederickson suggests to multiply the experience and benefits of love, or positive resonance.

How to Create Loving Experiences:

  • Make a physical connection as often as possible: Your body was formed by the forces of nature. Humans weren’t designed for the abstractions of long-distance love with emails and tweets. People hunger for moments of oneness that can happen with physical closeness.
  • Find circumstances that create feelings of trust and safety: The human brain is attuned to threats. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness or low self-esteem perceive threats far more often than circumstances warrant. Make it a point to make connections with other people in safe environments that encourage positive interactions. You might feel fondness and a sense of shared purpose with a group of strangers who’ve come together to marvel at a hatching of sea turtles or cheer at a football game.
  • Make time to connect: Daily life can become an endless to-do list, if we let it. Forget multi-tasking. Take a break from technology. Slow down. Be present. Make a physical and emotional connection.

The Universal Nature of Love

Love is connection, says Frederickson. The nature of love is broader than many people might think.

“While infused with love, you see fewer distinctions between you and others,” says Frederickson. “Indeed, your ability to see others, really see them, wholeheartedly, springs open. Love can even give you a sense of oneness and connection, a transcendence that makes you feel part of something far larger than yourself.”

The secret to creating more loving interactions that build upon each other is not really a mystery, says Frederickson. Creating and multiplying positive, loving experiences comes from three basic choices: slow down, choose safe environments and people, and make a physical connection. From these, love in all of its forms, can grow.
Fredrickson, Barbara, “Why Love Depends on Safety, Connection and Mutual Care,” Psychotherapy Networker, March 5, 2016.

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