Love is perhaps the most powerful of human emotions, yet the most misunderstood. It is because it is the most faked emotion, and the most wrongly used.
From a long, hard observation I have come away with the conclusion that true love on display is hard to find in this country. In very many cases, there pollutants like the love for money, sex, and greed to contaminate what otherwise would have been true love. It is like they say in local parlance, the more you look, the less you see.
But on reading Dr. Melanie Greenberg’s research-based truths about love, I seem to be seeing love in a brighter light. Greenberg is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness, and Mind-Body Health. Below are some excerpts of the research findings, which also trace love to the areas of activation in the brain.
Love is different from passion or lust: Physical attraction is an important part of love for most of us, but emotional love is different from lust. This is why one-night stands and alcohol-fueled hookups don’t tend to lead to long-term relationships. Studies that scan brains in real time show that we manifest lust in the motivation/reward areas of the brains, while love lights up the regions connected to caring and empathy.
Love is both a momentary feeling and a long-term state of mind: There’s something to the cliche of two hearts beating together as one: New research shows that we do experience love in the moment as a state of communion. In this moment of deep connection, people in love mirror each other’s facial expressions, gestures, and even physiological rhythms. But love can also be a lasting mental and emotional state in which we care deeply for each other’s wellbeing, feel moved by each other’s pain and motivated to help relieve each other’s suffering.
Building lasting relationships takes work: A meta-analysis of the best long-term studies of loving relationships highlight some behavior patterns that couples with lasting love share: Partners think of each other positively when they are not together; they support each other’s personal growth and development; and they undertake shared experiences in which they can learn and expand themselves.
Gbaam! For me, this is the one powerful home truth about love. Love should mutually rewarding and reinforcing.
We can increase our capacity to love: Research on mindfulness and self-compassion show that practicing these strategies regularly can develop our brains to be more positive and empathetic in a matter of months. Mindfulness and compassion practice increase activity in brain centers connected with empathy and positive emotions, decrease activation of our fear centers, and make our brains more interconnected.
It’s not just in your head: A large body of research shows that loving connection is beneficial to long-term physical health—and loneliness and a lack of social connection have been shown to shorten our lifespan as much as smoking.
If we focus on love, we can enhance it: When we deliberately focus our attention on our feelings and actions toward a loved one, we begin a positive reciprocal spiral of mutual appreciation and happiness. We all want to be thought about, cared for, and appreciated. Research also shows that expressing gratitude in words or actions actually creates positive emotions in the giver as well as the receiver.
It is not a fixed quantity: Loving one person, even a lot, does not mean you have less to give to others. In fact, the opposite is true: Love is a capacity you can build within yourself through mental concentration, emotional engagement, and caring actions. When we focus on and savour our loving feelings for one person, the internal feelings of satisfaction and connection we experience can motivate us to be more loving in general.
It is not unconditional: One of the preconditions for loving feelings is a sense of safety and trust. In order to connect lovingly and empathically, your prefrontal cortex has to send a signal to the amygdala (the brain’s alarm center) to switch off your automatic “fight or flight” response. People who endured childhood trauma, neglect, abuse, or other experiences that threaten secure attachment may have a harder time switching off the “fight-flight-freeze” system—or feeling safe enough to love. And, if your repeated expressions of care are not reciprocated by any heart-softening in your partner, it could be time to consider moving on.
It is contagious: Expressions of caring, compassion, and empathy can inspire these feelings in others. This may be why leaders such as the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela inspire followers to be their best selves—and help them calm down “fight or flight.”
Love is not necessarily forever, but it can be: In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare wrote that “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.” We now know that fixed, unchanging love is possible, but not the norm. In fact, some theorists even question the idea of a fixed, unchanging “self”—we are not the same person today as we were 10 years ago. Life experience can alter our biology, thought patterns, and behavior, and relationships may be challenged when one person’s needs change or both partners grow in different directions.