Have you ever fallen in love? Then you know what the poets, songwriters, gurus, playwrights, philosophers, bloggers, and screenwriters are talking about. But now there is a new occupation entering the fray trying to explain it: Scientists.
Barbara Fredrickson’s new book, Love 2.0, is a powerful new perspective on what love, a renewable resource, means to our body. She walks us through a biochemical and behavioral labyrinth that is fascinating and gives us pause for thought. (To read a recent review of this leading researcher’s book check here.)
The key to understanding what happens to us during the time there is mutual caring is called “positivity resonance” for Fredrickson. It is a type of alignment of three features where there is a release of the neuropeptide oxytocin (sometime dubbed the love hormone because it is released in large quantities during orgasm); an enhanced vagal tone (the association of heart rate to breathing rate); and our brain syncing with another person during something called, appropriately enough, “brain coupling”. It is the sharing of positive emotions that generates what Fredrickson calls ‘micro-moments’. The moments are “virtually identical” whether they occur between parent and child, friends, lovers, or total strangers.
Wait a minute.
Let’s break this down: If your son brings home his report card and is proud to show you the “A” he received and you hug him that certainly would seem to qualify. If you are sitting across from your best friend and share a laugh over a joke he has told you, this is a micro-moment. If you are making love and are lost in your lover’s eyes this is certainly on the list. But what if you are on line at Starbucks and you and a stranger notice a little girl with her lips pressed against the glass counter trying to kiss the goodies on the other side. You and the stranger smile and nod slightly toward each other. Both of you would know this was a shared positive emotion – that it was a unique experience for the two of you. Certainly it is a micro-moment. But is this love?
Barbara Fredrickson would say yes.
She doesn’t think we need to limit our definition of love to one person or even to a small group of intimates. She believes we should look for and savor these micro-moments as they can happen all around us – even with strangers.
Her book offers several suggestions for ‘priming the pump’ so to speak for increasing the likelihood of these experiences. Here are a couple from the book—and you can go online at positivityresonance.com under the ‘tools’ section and register free to keep track of your progress in building positive emotions.
The first one is the social connections reflection. In this experience pick the three longest social connections you’ve had during the day and review them at the end of the day. Then see how true these two statements are:
- During these social connections I felt “in tune” with the person/s around me.
- During these social connections I felt close to the person/s.
Rate the truth of these statements on a scale from 1-7 where 1 is not true at all and 7 is very true.
This simple reflection on daily social encounters showed that over time it increases upward spirals of positivity and, even more surprisingly, increase vagal tone. It literally makes your heart better.
The next practice is a Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). The goal here is to rouse tender, loving feelings as you visualize someone you love. There are many versions of this and the links below will take you to more complete meditations, but the essence of the practice is to imagine someone you love, allow warm feeling for them arise, and as you do recite these phrases to yourself.
- May (this person) feel safe.
- May (this person) feel happy.
- May (this person) feel healthy.
- May (this person) live his or her life with ease.
Dr. Fredrickson has kindly (of course) created a beautiful collection of meditations on her site, including one for LKM. You should check it out and try them all.
The quality of her research on LKM was so impressive on improving vagal tone that the Dalai Lama invited her to talk with him. Fredrickson was able to determine that those who had the largest increases in vagal tone had the most frequent positivity resonance experiences with others. Why was her research so important? Before her studies vagal tone was thought to be as stable and as unchangeable as one’s height. You either had good tone or not.
We could all use a little more love in our life, yes? Then keep your eyes wide as you wait in line for that latte. You may find it comes with a little extra sweetness.