With Valentine’s Day here again it feels like a good time to ask: What is love? And how can we best find, manage and maintain it?
Love is about so much more than the rush of attraction or the ability to maintain a long-term relationship, but what exactly is it? Psychological research seems to show that it is not what most of us think it us. That is to say it is not long-lasting, continuous emotion that can bring you your soul mate and keep a marriage together until your golden wedding anniversary. Neither is it the automatic and eternal blood bonds of family that many of us imagine.
Recent research on positive emotions describes love as a ‘micro-moment of positivity resonance’. This might not sound like something you would want to write on a Valentine’s card, but to put it in plainer language, it is a connection with another that leads to a flood of positive emotions. These ‘micro-moments’ of connection can be experienced with your partner, child, parent, sibling, friend, colleague, or fellow passenger on the bus.
It might sound like scientific jargon but the benefit of thinking of love in this way is that it releases you from the romantic myth of, “if only I can find ‘the one’ all would be well with my life”. It allows you to connect to the fact that love is all around and it is possible for you to have it in your life regardless of whether you are dating, have a partner, a best friend, a child or not. This in turn releases you from the idea that if you can’t find this idealised long-lasting romantic love, it’s because you are getting it wrong or there is something wrong with you.
Outside of the psychological research labs, the wider population continues to have extremely high expectations of love to the point that we have inflated it into something — a passionate bond that never fades — that is nigh impossible to achieve. In contrast, those more mundane micro-moments could be happening all the time, and you might be missing them in your quest for the big love of your life.
The other benefit of thinking of love in this more accessible way is that, for many people, love is really closely connected to fulfilment and self value. So it is good to re-define love as an action or series of actions we can take to bring us closer to the people we value. Rather than as something that is given to us, or that we fall into. Thinking about love as a passive state of being, something that we are waiting for or trying to get, rather than a thing we do or a choice we make means we may slip into bad habits and take love for granted. But it is something we can actively make more of in our lives.
Recent psychological studies have shown that there is a way of maximising the ‘positive resonance in your life’ and it goes back to the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation — a practice in which you sit in silence and wish peace, love and happiness to another person. The Princeton University study found that loving-kindness meditation can significantly increase the ability to generate love.
If you work on those moments of connection you have a really good chance of building strong loving relationships with the people you know and the ones you have not yet met. So if you are not in a relationship this Valentine’s Day, or you are in one that feels like it may not last, you don’t have to despair. You can rethink your idea of yourself as totally loveless and start to feel that love is in your every day reach.
If you feel would to talk to someone about how to maximise your positive emotions and connections to others or how to deal with any difficulties you are experiencing in your relationships, call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] and the reception staff will book an appointment with one of our therapists. We have centres in Clapham and Tooting.