Let’s remake our definition of love so that it’s more open and generous. Love is not a finite resource — the opportunities to experience the presence of love are limitless if we know what we’re looking for. With this perspective, the meaning of love is given new life, every moment.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” – Thomas Merton
This post is inspired by the research of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, leading scholar in social psychology, affective science (the study of emotion), and positive psychology.
Fredrickson gives a great TEDx talk where she says that “our typical ways of thinking about love are too limited; they don’t serve us well.” What she goes on to explain is that most people on this planet think of love as finding that one special person, which is sad, because a lot of people have yet to find that one special person, or they have lost that special person.
For this reason (and other reasons), I’d like to share with you an alternative vision of love that clears away these limitations and opens us all up to the presence of love in any situation — in every micro-moment of shared positive connection.
The Power of Shared Positive Connections
In Barbara Fredrickson’s Positive Psychology course, she shares that we tend to think about our emotional experiences as private, individual happenings, but they’re actually shared experiences. Emotions happen in the span of a micro-moment. It’s in that micro-moment that we share a positive feeling with another. When people are sharing an experience together (in conversation, through a smile, with touch, etc.) there’s emotional communication going on.
One’s emotions are contagious in such a powerful way. As Fredrickson notes in her TEDx talk:
When you really connect with another person, a beautifully choreographed biological dance is unfolding, as your smiles, gestures, and postures come to mirror one another and come into sync. But when you’re really connecting with somebody else, your heart rhythms come into sync, your bio-chemistries come into sync, even your neuro-firings come into sync. It’s as if in that micro-moment a single positive emotion is rolling across two bodies and brains at once, creating a momentary resonance of good feeling and goodwill between you.
The more of these micro-moments of connection we have, the more it changes us for the better — socially, psychologically, and physically. If you find ways to increase your experiences of these positive moments of connection with others, the very rhythms of your heart become healthier. And it’s not just about your health: the other person’s heart is getting a “mini tune-up,” too.
Humans are wired to connect, and this wiring happens to be living tissue that changes depending on our habits of connection. The more we fortify this wiring to connect, the more we decrease our chances of having a heart attack, and the more we increase the odds of living a happy and healthy life.
These shared positive connections give you life. Strong bonds lend healthy hearts, and with this insight we can recreate the meaning of love as we know it.
Love, perhaps, is more than just a special connection shared with one or a few people; maybe love is meant to be experienced in the shared positive connections with as many people as possible, in any given scenario.
A New Perspective on the Meaning of Love
“I see friends shaking hands saying, ‘How do you do?’ They’re really saying, ‘I love you.’” – Louis Armstrong
Take this song as an example of how love is present in the simple act of shaking hands, of an embrace, of a smile or a friendly greeting.
The idea of love in these micro-moments of shared positive connection gives the emotion an opportunity to occur more often in everyday life. If we were to release the limited views of what love is (a special bond with one or a few people), then we could embrace a more expanded view that allows opportunities for beauty to flourish.
The physchological phenomena of “seeing what we expect to see” is fitting to positive psychology because if you don’t see the value of moments of positive connection, then you’re more likely to overlook opportunities to cultivate them, even if those opportunities are right in front of you.
Love happens in a heartbeat. It can happen incidentally, but we can make love manifest more often, and on purpose, by remaking the meaning of love as it stands for us. When we change the way we see love, love appears in newfound ways, in expected and unexpected moments. We can participate in the manifestation of love. We can be channels for love in these micro-moments of positive connection that we share with others, with anyone and everyone we meet.
This perspective doesn’t take the sparkle out of love, because it can help you propel love all day long.
- We have opportunities to greet someone with gratitude and goodwill.
- We can choose not to judge others for their opposing views, but to understand them.
- We can choose to connect with people who are right in front of us, to listen to their ideas, needs, and stories.
- We can take advantage of our limitless opportunities to show love in small and big ways, and to love ourselves.
Love isn’t just that “lightning bolt experience that connects you to your soul mate;” there is power and grace and love in that simple, genuine smile you share with a stranger, a hug you give a friend, and every interaction you bring compassion to.
Stop waiting for the lightning bolt to choose you. Consciously choose love in every instance you can.
As Barbara says: “The science is calling us to wake up to the life giving power of these micro-moments and take them more fully to heart. Choose love, opportunities abound.”
A Happy Assignment
This prompt is from Barbara Fredrickson’s course, Positive Psychology.
Recall how energizing and rewarding it can be to really connect with somebody, sharing a flow of thoughts and feelings with ease.
Over the next 5 days, as your day unfolds, seek out at least 3 opportunities to connect with others like this, with warmth, respect, and goodwill. Opportunities may spring up at home, at work, in your neighborhood, or out in your community. Wherever you are, open toward others, freely offering your attention, creating a sense of safety — through eye contact, conversation, or when appropriate, touch.
Share your own lighthearted thoughts and feelings, and stay present as the other person shares theirs. Aim to make a true positive difference in each of these other people’s days.
At the end of 5 days, reflect on the process.
- What was your reaction to this assignment?
- Were you able to feel the oneness of shared positive connection, even to a small degree?
- Did the quality of your days change in any way?
Speculate on the positive ripples you may have created.
- What connections did you make yesterday, and can you make today?
- How can you be more genuine, kind, and receptive in your next conversation?
- When has your full presence in a greeting or meeting made a real difference?
Please share your own thoughts on this concept of love, what love means to you, how you can experience more positive moments with others on purpose, and any relevant experiences with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone you share a positive connection with.
May your days be filled with the presence of love.