Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think,
Do, and Become
By Barbara Fredrickson
Love, Our Supreme Emotion
"The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important
them: there ought to be as many for love." --Margaret Atwood
Longing. You know the feeling. It's that ache of sensing that
something vital is missing from your life; a deep thirst for more. More
meaning, more connection, more energy--more something. Longing
is that feeling that courses through your body just before you decide
that you're restless, lonely, or unhappy.
Longing like this is not just another mental state. It's deeply physical.
Your body craves some essential nutrient that it's not getting, yet
you can't quite put your finger on what it is. 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. The longing doesn't let up.
It trails you like a shadow, insistently, making distractions all the
more appealing. And distractions abound--that 2nd or 3rd glass of wine,
that stream of texts and tweets, that couch and remote control.
Odds are, food is abundant in your life. And clean drinking water is
as close as the nearest faucet and virtually limitless. You have access
to reasonably clean air and adequate shelter. Those basic needs have
long been met. What you long for now is far more intangible.
What you long for is love. Whether you're single or not, whether you
spend your days largely in isolation or steadily within 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 lifegiving, an indispensable
source of energy, sustenance, and health.
When I compare love to oxygen and food, I'm not just taking poetic
license. I'm drawing on science: New science that illuminates for the
first time how love, and its absence, fundamentally alters the biochemicals
in which your body is steeped. They, in turn, can alter the very ways
your DNA gets expressed within your cells. The love you do or do not
experience today may quite literally change key aspects of your cellular
architecture next season and next year--cells that affect your physical
health, your vitality, and your overall wellbeing. In these ways and
more, just as your supplies of clean air and nutritious food forecast
how long you'll walk this earth--and whether you'll thrive or just get
by--so does your supply of love.
It's Not What You Think
To absorb what the new science of love has to offer, you'll need to
step back from "love" as you may now know it. Forget about
the love that you typically hear on the radio, the one that's centered
on desire and yearns for touch from a new squeeze. Set aside the take
on love your family might have offered you, one that requires you love
your relatives unconditionally, regardless of whether their actions
disturb you, or their aloofness leaves you cold. I'm even asking you
to set aside your view of love as a special bond or relationship, be
it with your spouse, partner, or soul mate. And if you've come to view
love as a commitment, promise, or pledge, through marriage or any other
loyalty ritual, prepare for an about face. I need you to step back from
all of your preconceptions and consider an upgrade. Love 2.0 offers
a different perspective--your body's perspective.
If you were asked today, by a roving reporter or an inquisitive dinner
party guest, to provide your own definition of love, your answer would
likely reflect a mishmash of shared cultural messages and your own deeply
personal experiences with intimacy. However compelling your answer,
I'd wager that your body has its own--quite different-- definition of
love. That's what this book is about. Love is not sexual desire or the
blood-ties of kinship. Nor is it a special bond or commitment. Sure
enough, love is closely related to each of these important concepts.
Yet none, I will argue, capture the true meaning of love as your body
The vision of love that I offer here will require a radical shift,
a departure from what you've come to believe. It's time to upgrade your
view of love. Love is not a category of relationships. Nor is it something
"out there" that you can fall into, or--years later--out of.
Seeing love as a special bond is extraordinarily common, albeit misleading.
bond like this can endure for years--even a lifetime with proper commitment
and effort. And having at least one close relationship like this is
vital to your health and happiness, to be sure.1 Even so, that special
bond and the commitments people often build around it are better taken
as the products of love--the results of the many smaller moments in
which love infuses you--rather than as love per se. When you equate
love with intimate relationships, love can seem confusing. At times
it feels great, while at other times it hurts like hell. At times it
lifts you up with grand dreams for your future, and at other times oppresses
you with shame about your inadequacies, or guilt about your past actions.
When you limit your view of love to relationships or commitment, love
becomes a complex and bewildering thicket of emotions, expectations,
and insecurities. Yet when you redirect your eyes toward your body's
definition of love, a clear path emerges that cuts through that thicket
and leads you to a better life.
There's still more ground to clear. I need to ask you to disengage from
some of your most cherished beliefs about love as well: the notions
that love is exclusive, lasting, and unconditional. These deeply held
beliefs are often more wish than reality in people's lives. They capture
people's daydreams about the love-of-their-life whom they've
yet to meet. Love, as your body defines it, is not exclusive, not something
to be reserved for your soul mate, your inner circle, your kin, or your
so-called loved ones. Love's reach turns out to be far wider
than we're typically coaxed to imagine. Even so, love's timescale is
far shorter than we typically think. Love, as you'll see, is not lasting.
It's actually far more fleeting than most of us would care to acknowledge.
On the upside, though, love is forever renewable. And perhaps most challenging
of all, love is not unconditional. It doesn't emerge no matter what,
regardless of conditions. To the contrary, you'll see that the love
your body craves is exquisitely sensitive to contextual cues. It obeys
preconditions. Yet once you understand those preconditions, you can
find love countless times each day.
It's difficult to speak of love in scientific terms, I've found, because
listeners have so many pre-existing and strong beliefs about it. Many
of these beliefs reflect our shared cultural heritage, like all those
proliferating songs and movies that equate love with infatuation or
sexual desire, or with stories that end happily-ever-after, or even
the realistic marriage ceremonies that celebrate love as an exclusive
bond and commitment. Other beliefs about love are deeply personal. They
reflect your own unique life history, with its interpersonal triumphs
and scars, lessons about intimacy learned and not-yet-learned. Left
unaddressed, these preconceptions can derail any serious intellectual
discussion of it. They may even keep you from soaking up the full implications
of the new findings on love.
This Approach Is Different
The approach I offer weaves together several new strands of science
while keeping an eye toward the spiritual and the practical. With roots
extending back millennia to your hunter-gatherer ancestors, this approach
also casts forward to your future. It envisions your untapped potential
for loving and growth, and your ability to create contexts that nurture
love and growth in others, and in the generations to come who will inherit
whatever world you help to shape.
The bedrock for my approach to love is the science of emotions. For
more than two decades, I've investigated that subset of emotions that
feel good to you, those pleasing states--of joy, amusement, gratitude,
hope, and the like--that simultaneously infuse your mind and body. Odds
are you shift into and out of states like these dozens of times each
day, sometimes when you're alone, sometimes when you're with others.
What I've found is that even though you experience positive emotions
as exquisitely subtle and brief, such moments can ignite powerful forces
of growth in your life. They do this first by opening you up: Your outlook
quite literally expands as you come under the influence of any of several
positive emotions. Put simply, you see more as your vision widens; you
see the bigger picture. With this momentarily broadened, more encompassing
mindset, you become more flexible, attuned to others, creative, and
wise. Over time, you also become more resourceful. This is because,
little by little, these mind-expanding moments of positive emotions
add up to reshape your life for the better, making you more knowledgeable,
more resilient, more socially integrated, and healthier. In fact, science
documents that positive emotions can set off upward spirals within your
life, self-sustaining trajectories of growth that lift you up to become
a better version of yourself.
These two core facts about positive emotions--that they open you up
and transform you for the better--form the two anchor points for my
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, which I wrote about in
my first book, Positivity, to show how you can put positive emotions
to work as you navigate your days to overcome negativity and thrive.
The word "positivity" is purposefully broad. I chose it to
cover the full range of positive emotions and then some. It also spans
the psychological conditions that seed your positive emotions as well
as their myriad effects--the slowing rhythm of your heart, the opening
of your mind, and the relaxed, inviting look on your face. It even encompasses
the fruits of positive emotions that ripen for you only a season later--their
mounting effects on your relationships, your character, your health
and spiritual growth. Here, you could protest and say that I've roped
too much into this one term. Yet I see real value in using an encompassing
word like positivity. It lassos the fuller dynamic system in which love
and other positive emotions operate. Positive emotions are the tiny
engines that drive this intricate, ever-churning positivity system.
They are the active ingredients that set the rest in motion. Yet when
I step back from the proverbial microscope to examine the larger system
that orbits around your positive emotions, I see how positive emotions
knit you in to the fabric of life, the social fabric that unites you
with others, and how they orchestrate the ways you grow and rebound
through changing circumstances. I needed a new word to encompass that
broader system, and that's positivity.
Keeping an eye on this fuller positivity system enables a more precise
definition of love, which I unpack in Chapter 2. Love--like all the
other positive emotions--follows the ancestral logic of broaden-and-build:
Those pleasant yet fleeting moments of connection that you experience
with others expand your awareness in ways that accrue to create lasting
and beneficial changes in your life.
The love you crave lies within momentary experiences of connection.
Other concepts that go by the word "love" within our shared
cultural vocabulary--the all-consuming desire, the exclusive bonds,
the commitments to loyalty, the unconditional trust--are best viewed
as key players within the larger positivity system that surrounds love.
Each in fact grows stronger as your moments of love accumulate: When
you've truly connected with someone else, your trust in that person
expands, your relationship and loyalty deepen, and you want to spend
more good times together. But that's only half the story. The causal
arrow also runs in the other direction: Each of these players within
the larger positivity system--the desire, bonds, commitments, and trust--also
triggers subsequent moments of loving connection. Put simply, it's far
easier to connect with another person, when your desire, bond, commitment
or trust is present and strong. So these players are both cause and
consequence of loving connections. This is what sustains the complex
and dynamic positivity system that forges your often inexplicable ties
to family, friends, and community. Love energizes this whole system
and sets it into motion.
There's a lot going on here. It's no wonder that love puzzles us.
Adding to the confusion, the word "love" is commonly affixed
to different parts of the system. So when you tell someone that you
love them, you may well be invoking a range of different, albeit closely
related concepts. You might, for instance, mean to say that you crave
the time you two spend together. Alternatively, you could mean to say
that you trust that person, and intend to be loyal yourself. Or perhaps
professing your love to another serves as a way to elevate that particular
relationship as an especially important one in your life, a way to invite
or secure that person within your innermost circle. And perhaps most
often, your declaration of "I love you" is meant to convey
"all of the above." From a practical standpoint, there's certainly
nothing wrong with that. I wouldn't ask you to upgrade your vision of
love if I didn't see a big payoff for doing so. When we unravel love
in Chapter 2, you'll begin to understand it in terms that your body
knows. For now, suffice it to say that although you may subscribe to
a whole host of definitions of love, your body subscribes to just one:
Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with
another living being.
I want to emphasize, though, that love isn't simply one of the many
positive emotions that sweep through you from time to time. It's bigger
than joy, amusement, gratitude, or hope. It has special status. I call
it our supreme emotion. First, that's because any of the other positive
emotions--joy, amusement, gratitude, hope, and so on--can be transformed
into an instance of love when felt in close connection with another.
Yet casting love as shared positive emotion doesn't go nearly far enough.
Second, whereas all positive emotions provide benefits-- each, after
all, broadens your mindset and builds your resourcefulness-- the benefits
of love run far deeper, perhaps exponentially so. 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
My approach to love is also different because it crosses emotion science
with relationship science. From relationship science, I adopt the idea
that love draws you out of your cocoon of self-absorption to attune
to others. Love allows you to really see another person, holistically,
with care, concern, and compassion. Within each moment of loving connection,
you become sincerely invested in this other person's well-being, simply
for his or her own sake. And the feeling is mutual. You come to recognize
that, in this loving moment, this other person is
also sincerely invested in your well-being; that he or she truly cares
for you. Relationship scientists cast this sense of mutual care as an
abiding attribute of intimate relationships. By contrast, I see mutual
care as a momentary state that rises and falls in step with changes
in context and emotion.
Truth be told, a happy accident pressed me to see love in a whole new
light. I was minding my own business as an emotions scientist about
eight years back, testing hypotheses drawn from my broadenand- build
theory. My main goal at the time was to find a way to probe the long-range
effects of accumulated positive emotions. Would they build people's
resources and transform their lives for the better as the theory predicted?
To support definitive claims about cause-and-effect, I needed an experiment,
complete with randomization and rigorous measures. I needed to compare
one group of people who increased their daily diets of positive emotions
to another group that didn't. The vexing question was how? How
can people reliably and sustainably increase their daily intake of positive
emotions? The methods that I and other scientists had used in the lab
to test the short-range effects of positive emotions--the music, the
film clips, the cartoons, the unexpected gifts of candy--wouldn't do.
They fall flat and lose their charge with repetition. That's because
we humans adapt: Even the most potent emotion-eliciting stimulus fades
into the background like wallpaper with repeated exposure. After a few
failed attempts to develop a viable intervention, I found myself in
a year-long interdisciplinary faculty seminar on integrative medicine.
Here is where I was first introduced to the ancient mind-training practice
called metta in Pali, maître in Sanskrit, often
translated as loving-kindness, or simply kindness. In Buddhist teachings,
loving-kindness is considered one of the four noblest modes of consciousness--the
crown jewel, in some traditions. A light bulb went off for me: This
ancient practice, honed over millennia, could help me test my theory.
Perhaps training in loving-kindness was
the intervention I'd been seeking.
Over the next year, my students and I designed a rigorous and randomized
experiment to test the effects of learning to self-generate positive
emotions through loving-kindness meditation. My test pilots were reasonably
healthy working adults with no particular spiritual orientation. The
results were abundantly clear. When people, completely new to meditation,
learned to quiet their minds and expand their capacity
for love and kindness, they transformed themselves from the inside out.
They experienced more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy,
more amusement--more of every positive emotion we measured. And though
they typically meditated alone, their biggest boosts in positive emotions
came when interacting with others, off the cushion, as it were. Their
lives spiraled upwards. The kind-heartedness they learned to stoke during
their meditation practice warmed their connections with others.Later
experiments would confirm that it was these connections that most affected
their bodies, making them healthier. We also came to discover that other
interventions to foster connection--ones that didn't require learning
to meditate--could increase people's experiences of love and likewise
improve their health. I share all of these change strategies with you
in Part II.
These discoveries pushed me to rethink love. Taken as a whole, the
numbers tell me that when you learn practical ways to generate warm
connections with others--through meditation or other means--you step
up to a whole new dynamic. Here is where the soft-focus you encounter
in typical discussions about love sharpens into high definition. The
mysteries that have long been sources both of wonder and exhilaration
as well as confusion and misunderstanding, now give way to practical,
evidence-based prescriptions for how to live life well. We know now
that a steady diet of love influences how people grow and change, making
them healthier and more resilient day-by-day. And we're beginning to
understand exactly how this works, by tracking the complex chain of
biological reactions that cascades throughout your body and changes
your behavior in ways that influence those around you. But even as science
unveils the mystery of love, it offers you even more reason to pay attention.
I'll show you how love's capacity to nourish, heal, and do good is deeply
wired into your biology, and into your ways of relating to others. The
sheer complexity of love's biology is reason enough for awe.
When you upgrade your vision of love, you'll be drawn to cherish it
all the more. You come to recognize that it deserves greater priority
in your life. My doctoral student, Lahnna Catalino and I have examined
the effects of prioritizing positivity. By this we mean the importance
you give to your own positive emotional experiences. Do you trust them?
Turn towards them? Seek them out and cherish them? Do you use anticipated
good feelings as a touchstone when choosing what to do next? Or do you
brush good feelings off as trivial, frivolous, or inconsequential? When
you learn to prioritize love and other positive emotions, we've found,
you actually get more out of them. Your upward spirals lift you up higher
and faster. With the guidance I've assembled in Part II, you'll be set
to take off.
That's why I wrote this book. Learning how love works can make a clear
difference in your life. It can help you prioritize moments of shared
positivity and elevate your faith in humanity. With the greater knowledge
of love's inner workings that this book offers, you'll become more efficient
at accessing this transcendent state, with all its inherent goodness.
Science need not inevitably leave you holding a flat corkboard with
a dismembered butterfly pinned to it. Science can also glorify, painting
a colorful and multidimensional roadmap for a more potent life journey,
one that eliminates the detours of false hopes, false prophets, false
claims, and charts a course toward the real thing. It can leave the
butterfly alive and whole and set it free.
Love 2.0: The View from Here
What is love, exactly? What's hidden beneath love's surface? What does
love create? How do you unlock more opportunities for it? The new science
of love tackles all of these questions and upgrades our vision of love.
In Chapter 2, I unpack your body's definition of love in detail, and
describe love's necessary preconditions. In Chapter 3, I reveal the
hidden biological underpinnings of love and you'll come away with an
even deeper appreciation for what love means for your health. In Chapter
4, I describe the vast array of benefits that love brings to you.
Part II of this book is all about making changes. You've long admired
people skilled at making genuine, heartfelt connections. They seem so
perceptive and nimble, so resilient and generous. You've long imagined
that being a "grown up" would bestow you with such perspective
and grace. Yet age, measured as time since birth, provides no
guarantees for maturity or wisdom. In Chapters 5 through 9, I offer
you explicit guidance on how to more often and more effectively seed
love, love for yourself and love for others, through thick and thin,
in sickness and in health. You'll come away having learned that love
need not remain an unpredictable and elusive state. With practice, you'll
find you can generate love anytime you wish. Love will become a renewable
resource that you can tap to fuel your own wellbeing, and the wellbeing
of all those within your radius.
Love is our supreme emotion: Its presence or absence in our lives influences
everything we think, do, feel and become. It's that recurrent state
that ties you in--your body and brain alike--to the social fabric, to
the bodies and brains of those in your midst. When you experience love--true
heart/mind/soul-expanding love--you not only become better able to see
the larger tapestry of life and better able to breathe life into the
connections that matter to you, but you also set yourself on a pathway
that leads to more health, happiness, and wisdom.
Excerpted from "Love 2.0" by Barbara Fredrickson. Reprinted by arrangement
with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright
2013 by Barbara Fredrickson Ph.D.