Love 2.0 Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become

By Barbara Fredrickson

Chapter 1
Love, Our Supreme Emotion

 

 

"The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to
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 experiences it.

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. A
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 health.

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.

  Love 2.0

 

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