New Science: You Can Have Limitless Love, If You Know Where to Lookby Barbara L. Fredrickson on January 28, 2013
Did you know that love 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 life-giving, 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 well-being. 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.
The vision of love that I offer in Love 2.0 requires a radical shift, a departure from what you’ve come to believe about love. It’s time to upgrade your view of love. First and foremost, love is an emotion, a momentary state that arises to infuse your mind and body alike. Love, like all emotions, surfaces like a distinct and fast-moving weather pattern, a subtle and ever-shifting force. The new take on love that I want to share with you is this: Love blossoms virtually any time two or more people—even strangers—connect over a shared positive emotion, be it mild or strong.
We tend to think of emotions as private events, confined to one person’s mind and skin. Yet this upgraded view of love defies that logic. Scientific evidence suggests that when you really “click” with someone else, a discernible yet momentary synchrony emerges between the two of you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings come to mirror one another in a pattern I call positivity resonance. Love is a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once.
The latest science shows that your body has a built-in ability to “catch” the emotions of those around you, making your prospects for love – defined as micro-moments of positivity resonance – nearly limitless. As hopeful as this sounds, science also shows that you can thwart this natural ability if you don’t make eye contact with the other person. Meeting eyes is one of the key gatekeepers to the neural synchrony of love.
And we now know that love, seen as these micro-moments of positive connection, fortifies the connection between your brain and your heart and makes you healthier. Decades of research show that people who are more socially connected live longer and healthier lives. Yet precisely how your social ties influence your health has remained one of the great mysteries of science. My research team and I recently learned that when we randomly assign one group of people to learn ways to create more micro-moments of love in daily live, we lastingly improve the function of the vagus nerve, a key conduit that connects your brain to your heart. This discovery provides a new window into how micro-moments of love serve as nutrients for your health. Further evidence suggests that your immune cells reflect your past experiences of love. Too often you get the message that your future prospects hinge on your DNA. Yet the ways that your genes get expressed at the cellular level depends mightily on many factors, including whether you consider yourself to be socially connected or chronically lonely. My team is now investigating the cellular effects of love, testing whether people who build more micro-moments of love in daily life also build healthier immune cells.
It can seem surprising that an experience that lasts just a micro-moment can have any lasting effect on your health and longevity. Yet there’s an important feedback loop at work here, an upward spiral between your social and your physical well-being. That is, your micro-moments of love not only make you healthier, but being healthier also builds your capacity for love. Little by little, love begets love by improving your health. And health begets health by improving your capacity for love.
This article has been adapted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson M.D. Copyright 2012 by Barbara Fredrickson M.D.