Love 2.0: Opportunities for love in everyday connections

I was deeply moved by a book I read recently “Love 2.0: How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become”, by Barbara Fredrickson, a research psychologist at the University of North Carolina.   The heart of her thesis is:

Love is far more ubiquitous than you ever thought possible, for the simple fact that love is connection...it is the warmth of everyday connections“.

22559299 - happy smiling mother and baby kissing and hugging at home

22559299 – happy smiling mother and baby kissing and hugging at home

Copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

She aims to knock love off its ‘romantic pedestal’. Many of us have a sense that love is this profound emotion that we reserve only for those with whom we have an intimate connection: our partner, our family members, etc. We tend to view it as connected with sex, or durable commitments. This can lead to the sense that love is elusive, love is ‘out there’. By only imagining that love is exclusive, lasting and unconditional, we may find ourselves frustrated, as we wait for our soulmate, the ‘love of our life’; or confused, when we feel a loving emotion for someone other than our partner.

While she acknowledges that having at least one close, enduring relationship is vital to your health and happiness, she maintains it’s possible to have “micro-moments” of love with total strangers.   Not in the sense of the “free love” spirit of the 1960’s – as in the Stephen Stills song “…if you can’t be with the one you love, Honey / love the one you’re with”. But rather love can be these brief connections as you walk your dog, and encounter another dog lover, and engage in a brief conversation. The lighting-up you feel when you connect with a young mother with her oh-so-cute burbling infant in a stroller.   That feeling when you’re at a ballgame, and revel in the joy of your favorite team winning. Or even in a bar watching that win on TV.

There’s a natural tendency to minimize such simple moments – to not give them their due – yet she encourages us heighten our awareness of them. One of the outcomes of her research is that pleasing moments like joy, amusement, gratitude, or hope and are often subtle and brief, and is something hard-wired into our body’s responses. But “such moments can ignite powerful forces of growth for your life. They do this first by opening you up…you become more flexible, attuned to others, creative and wise”.

She considers the love the ‘supreme emotion’. She maintains

     “within each moment of loving connection, you become sincerely invested in this other person’s well-being, simply for his or her own sake. And the feeling is mutual. You     come to recognize that, in this loving moment, this other person is also sincerely invested in your well-being; that he or she truly cares for you.”

 

Learning how loves works can make a clear difference in your life. It can help you prioritize moments of shared positivity and elevate your faith in humanity.”

Her suggestion: don’t wait for Cupid’s arrow, or that lightning bolt. Make a conscious choice to look for these opportunities which abound in the everyday interactions of life, and turn them into micro-moments of love. Choose love.

 

One of her many videos, a TEDx talk (you’ll need to endure a few seconds of ads – then click Skip Ad)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flow experiences, and what makes a life worth living

Something I’ve heard people say “In life, they say to follow your passions, but I don’t know what those are!”. One way to get some clues on that is to become aware of the times in your life when you’ve had a ‘flow’ experience. Let me explain here what that is.

Being in a state of flow is an extraordinary experience – one’s concentration is total, time passes without awareness, and sometimes one reaches a state of bliss.

The TED talk by Csikszentmihalyi in my last blog post lists the characteristics of a flow experience:

  • Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
  • A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  • Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.
  • A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  • Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.
  • Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

The simplest thing that comes to mind is an expert skier on a very demanding ‘black diamond’ run. The goal is to make it to the bottom still standing, and uninjured. The feedback is constant – you’re either making the turns or you’re flying into the woods. And the balance of challenges to skills comes from the skier choosing a run that matches his skill level. One’s attention is totally devoted to the skiing – no opportunities to worry about some argument you’ve had recently, or whether you’re hungry. Sometimes even a novice skier can achieve this on a run that matches their skill level (though the moment you worry about falling and/or injuring yourself, the flow is gone).

plotofflow

Csikszentmihalyi explain this in terms of positions on a graph, plotting skill level against challenge level. When you’re watching TV, the challenges are minimal, and the skill level needed is zero – you likely feel apathy and/or boredom. If you need to build a fence for the first time, and you’re not very handy, you have high challenge, but low skill: low skill, medium-high challenge leading to worry and anxiety. That expert skier is at high skill and high challenge, and is in flow.

A flow experience does not need to be grand. For some, knitting can be a flow experience. For others, gardening. Solving a sudoku, or other puzzles.

Sometimes, for the lucky few, work provides this. I suspect some accountants have a flow experience as they try to balance the books. Or an investigative reporter breaks a story. Or a chef makes the ultimate soufflé. Or a teacher presents one of their favorite topics, and really connects with a class, getting an enthusiastic and engaged response. I’ve experienced yoga teachers reaching this.

Former CEO Norman Augustine says “I’ve always wanted to be successful. My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it…You have to enjoy what you are doing. You won’t be very good if you don’t. And secondly, you have to feel that you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work”.

Stop now and reflect on whether there have been moments in your life where you may have had a flow experience. Does this give you clues on what your passions are, and where you may want to direct more of your life’s energy? Does this help you answer Csikszentmihalyi’s question “What makes a life worth living?”.