Inspired by our favorite fairy tales and romance movies, many of us have grown up with a pretty clear image of what we believe to be an ideal relationship. Experts warn not to hold your breath waiting, as the science shows that ‘love’ as we know it doesn’t actually exist!
Take a moment to look at the incredible pressure that we, as a society, put on the presence of love in our lives! Just look, for a moment, at the ultimate example – Valentine’s Day. An entire day that revolves around this notion of romantic love and the expectations that we place upon our relationships, it is predicted that U.S. consumers spend an average of $143.56 per person on just this one day.
For those that aren’t currently in a happy, healthy relationship, the expectations of this day can be too much to handle leading to an increased rate of depression and suicide. Diane Brice, director of Suicide Prevention Service of the Central Coast reports approximately 200 more calls on Valentines Day on her Missouri hotline each year!
While there has long been a debate about the expectations that we have placed on this notion of ‘romantic love’ and the importance that it holds in our lives, scientists and experts are now weighing in. Dr. Barbara Frederickson, author of the best-selling book ‘Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection’ is one of the experts speaking out, looking to clear up our misconceptions. Focusing her career on the science of positive emotions, she has spent more than 20 years researching and understanding how the human mind and body responds to positive influences and ‘love’ as we refer to it.
It’s not that we don’t feel anything, simply that we don’t truly understand what we are feeling, Frederickson explains. The feeling we refer to as love isn’t some ongoing feeling with the power to overcome great odds or keep a marriage together for decades. In fact, it’s not an ongoing experience at all. Instead, it’s a series of ‘micro-moments of positive connection’ between two people. These moments may have a lasting physical impact on the body, but the happiness or connection is based on positive emotions at the time.
“What I’m arguing hers is that those positive emotions that we share with another that resonate back and forth between us for a moment actually do so much more than our ordinary rank and file positive emotions,” Frederickson explains. “The way to think of it is that our brains and bodies were designed to catch other people’s emotions. The way we do that is primarily through making eye contact. Our bodies just automatically stimulate what is going on for the other person.”
The theory states that at that moment when we make contact with one another, we both experience and share positive emotions that we have come to explain as ‘love’. However, these feelings are in no way romantic in nature or driven by commitment. In fact, they can be experienced between any two people at any time, including romantic partners, friends, even a complete stranger at the coffee shop.
Another interesting point that she introduces, in order to experience these ‘micro-moments’ two people must physically be near one another. It’s not a phenomenon that can be experienced across a distance or over the phone. One may experience feelings of positivity due to the fact their mind is reflecting back upon the connection with a person as we are talking to them, but the actual phone conversation is not responsible for that positive feeling.
“Thinking of love purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person, as it appears most on earth do, surely limits the health and happiness you derive [from love],” states Frederickson. “My conception of love gives hope to people who are single or divorced or widowed this Valentine’s Day to find smaller ways to experience love.”
This video shows Dr. Barbara Fredrickson herself explaining the phenomenon:
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