I love being a Psychology student for many reasons. Besides it being one of the most fascinating studies, the relevance it has to every day life is intriguing. In one of my Social Psychology classes we just wrapped up a study on love, romance, and affection (romantic and non-romantic) from a neurological standpoint. In a particular area of the study there was some pretty enlightening findings that I couldn’t help but draw a little insight from.
So let’s start with a pretty basic life observation. Take a look around. What is every song, movie, and book written about and centered around? Not too hard a question, it is love. Whether it be the love between lovers, brothers, friends, or family, love is a driving force that all people of every walk of life crave and live for. In love, people find meaning in life. And in lack there of people lose meaning. In child development, babies can be fed and kept warm yet die from not receiving adequate physical touch and affection. Even the Bible is about a love story between God and His children. We were made for just this purpose.
In studying this topic, we took a full lecture to look at romantic love. This activates the cerebral cortex which is the reward center of the brain. After being signaled, the ventral tegmental releases dopamine, the same chemical released by cocaine use. Like a drug, a person will experience a high or “honeymoon stage” when they are newly in love. This continues for varying periods of time depending on different couples (months or years) until couples reach a baseline. At this point, dopamine release is regulated and a balance takes place causing chemically induced intensified feelings to level.
Makes sense right? Now why does this cool psych info matter and what does it mean in every day life? Stay with me.
As part of this lecture, our professor asked us what we believed about love being a choice and then challenged us by redefining our idea of just what that “choice” is. Most of us related to this idea as “choice” translating to a commitment to remain loyal to whoever it is you love – a spouse, a child, a parent, God, ect – EVEN when you don’t want to. We were all missing something though.
The choice to love is the choice to act.
Even research showed that when married couples engaged in activities that they had enjoyed in earlier parts of their relationship, the same region of the brain was activated and released dopamine, giving life to the relationship and rekindling love and closeness. This trickled down to one important factor though – what made each individual feel loved and targeting that area to strike the neurological magic.
In different surveys and forms of research different men and women reported feeling most loved at times when their individual love language was used. Some responded most to quality time, while others to physical touch, others to acts of service, others to words and acts of affirmation, ect. The key was each partner understanding ways in which the other person received love, acting on it intentionally and often, and triggering the reward center of the brain that in turn motivated the other person to respond as well. Ultimately this was a key in creating a healthy cycle of reciprocal loving acts.
This struck me as incredible. It also struck me as something that made a whole lot of sense but was that much more intriguing when looked at from within the functions and chemical balance of the brain.
But what struck me most was the profound simplicity of this data that was relevant to the most vital part of our being; our relationships with others. Aside from being useful knowledge to be aware of in dating and marriage, this was applicable to how we relate to people in general.
Love is a verb, an action.
We love people by not only caring for them, but showing our care in ways they understand. We also show love to people by doing things that activate and cultivate that relationship.
For example, I adore my father. I want to love him well and be the best daughter I can be. My dad loves to talk about sports, especially golf. He lights up at the opportunity to talk about his day on the course. I don’t always want to listen, but by doing so and choosing to make what is important to him important to me, my dad gets to have a moment of fulfillment and I get to love him by putting his interest above my own.
When I feel far from God or distant in my relationship with Him, I seek Him through His Word, prayer, or other things that cause me to feel closer and more connected.
My best friend loves surprises and sometimes just bringing by Starbucks can make her day. When life goes haywire and we can’t even find time to grab lunch together, sometimes a caring act in her language bridges that gap.
The little girl I nanny loves quality time spent reading princess books or playing with dolls. Sometimes when she is misbehaved and rebellious, a little quality time is what she needs and suddenly she feels loved and accepted and in turn is motivated to be kind to me and her siblings.
I could go on. But for the sake of not becoming more long-winded, you get the point.
We all tick to something different and need different things at different times. And we obviously love with more than just the chemicals in our brains, though studying these biological responses is pretty mind-blowing . But how impacting would it be if we used this insight to better and more intentionally love the people in our own lives?
Intentionally generating love is the biggest difference we can make in our world. It is more than a feeling, but a choice to put ourselves second and sacrifice for the sake of others.
My motivation to love is because I was first loved and shown the perfect example of love by Jesus Christ. He put Himself second and humbled Himself to the point of bearing a cross and bleeding His blameless blood on my guilty behalf. Love causes us to escape from ourselves and focus on others. And in a world that will one day fade, it is the power of love, the impact of love, and how we chose to love that will matter.
So today I propose a challenge to us all, one to put this force into drive in our own lives. Whatever that may look like for each of us individually, let it be measured by a willingness to put ourselves second and go the extra mile for those we are privileged to share life with.
Love does not just feel, love does.