It’s a $19.8 billion dollar holiday. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. The average American consumer spends $137.56 on Valentine’s Day cards, flowers, chocolates, meals, and other presents to woo, wow, or bestow love to that special someone.
With almost 30 days since the commercial hype of this romantic holiday, have you lost that lovin’ feeling?
- Isn’t love more than just cupids, red hearts, and roses?
- And what if you don’t have a romantic partner?
Barbara Fredrickson, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leading researcher in positive emotions wants to take love off its romantic pedestal and redefine it as micro-moments of shared empathy and positive emotions which can be cultivated and experienced throughout your day.
Yes, you can make love every day.
In her book, Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, Fredrickson identifies love is a supreme emotion that you can directly cultivate and strengthen leading to improved health and longevity if sustained as a daily practice. You don’t need a romantic partner, a close family member or friend, to experience these micro-moments of positive connection.
Why is this so important?
Americans are lonely, isolated, and depressed. John Cacioppo, an expert researcher on loneliness at the University of Chicago, estimates that 20% or 60 million people in the US feel lonely. (And it’s even higher for elder Americans at 35%.)
Roughly 6.7 % or 16 million people experience depression. Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy have discovered a rise in depression especially among teenagers 12 -17 increasing from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2015.
What is even more puzzling is that the United States, which has a rich and diversified economy, is one of the top 10 countries in the world with the greatest amount of personal wealth, and yet it doesn’t even make the top 10 list of happiest countries. With all our money, our commercialism is perpetuating fleeting moments of love and connection. We haven’t learned how to develop and sustain positive emotions and cultivate micro-moments of positivity resonance with others.
We know from neuroscience that romantic love has powerful biological effects releasing those feel-good hormones such norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. Lust, obsession, attachment, and other emotions are triggered by your brain chemistry and heightened during the early stage of a relationship.
But scientists know that all emotions are fleeting and not meant to last.
Because emotions wax and wane, you need to build skills and develop resources to generate positive emotions in yourself regardless of whether or not you are in a romantic relationship. Click to tweet
Fredrickson and her research team discovered that by redefining love as a micro-moment of shared genuine positive emotions such as laughing with a neighbor, giving a friend a reassuring hug, or smiling at a baby, you will experience momentary resonance that will boost your emotional well-being and improve your heart and your health.
These micro-moments of positivity resonance cause a physiological change in your brain chemistry and on your vagus nerve. Your vagus (Latin for wandering) nerve connects your brain stem to other parts of your body including your heart and lungs and down into your stomach and intestines. To Fredrickson, your vagus nerve is a direct mind-heart connection.
The power of stimulating your vagus nerve can dramatically impact your overall health. When you practice deep diaphragmatic breathing you are improving your vagal tone, which slows your heart rate down, reduces your stress and anxiety. With micro-moments of connection, you will increase the release of those feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.
But like most things related to health, if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you want to experience greater health, well-being, and positive emotions and override any feelings of depression or loneliness, it’s on you to increase your daily diet of micro-connections with others. The key is to create the habit of seeking out these opportunities for connection which may require you to step outside of your personal bubble and look up from your phone to fully engage with another human being.
2 Key Habits to Strengthen Your Daily Micro-Moments of Love
(where you don’t need a romantic partner, family or close friends)
1. Loving Kindness Meditation
Also known a Metta meditation, this contemplative practice will guide you in sending kind thoughts to others and yourself.
When Fredrickson was first looking for a way to study love and how to create a sustained practice of positive emotions, so many activities fell short including listening to music, watching film clips or cartoons, or receiving unexpected gifts. The repeated exposure of these types of activities lost their charge. With a loving-kindness meditation, people who were completely new to meditation were able to quiet their minds to experience their own capacity of love and kindness. Their lives were measurably transformed.
They experienced more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy, more amusement–more of every positive emotion we measured. And though they typically meditated alone, their biggest boosts in positive emotions came when interacting with others, off the cushion, as it were. Their lives spiraled upwards. The kind-heartedness they learned to stoke during their meditation practice warmed their connections with others. Later experiments would confirm that it was these connections that most affected their bodies, making them healthier. ~ Barbara Fredrickson
2. Create a micro-moments of connection with someone 3 x / day
We are wired to connect but too often we live in our own cocoons, self-absorbed and with eyes on our phones. A micro-moment is exactly that, 60 seconds more or less, where you might:
a. Look someone in the eyes to say hello and smile.
b. Really listen and show caring by leaning in or nodding.
c. Share a positive emotion like laughing, joy, playfulness, and hope.
d. Be open and vulnerable to fully engage in a meaningful exchange.
When you upgrade your vision of love, you’ll be drawn to cherish it all the more. You come to recognize that it deserves greater priority in your life. My doctoral student, Lahnna Catalino and I have examined the effects of prioritizing positivity. By this we mean the importance you give to your own positive emotional experiences. Do you trust them? Turn towards them? Seek them out and cherish them? Do you use anticipated good feelings as a touchstone when choosing what to do next? Or do you brush good feelings off as trivial, frivolous, or inconsequential? When you learn to prioritize love and other positive emotions, we’ve found, you actually get more out of them. Your upward spirals lift you up higher and faster. ~ Barbara Fredrickson
- Loving Kindness Meditation (From Barbara Fredrickson’s Website) Please visit her website for more selections
Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection by Barbara Fredrickson
Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John Cacioppo
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Thank you to Pixabay for the featured image.