When you think of love, you probably think about big moments like marriage, births, budding romances and grand romantic gestures. But new research emerging from the lab of Professor Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina shows that under the right circumstances, love can be experienced any time with anyone.
The research shows that in most instances when your eyes meet another person's, what occurs is a kind of mind-body-meld. On a physiological level, activity in your body and brain triggers parallel changes within another person’s body and brain. Your minds literally sync up. Viewed this way, love belongs not to one person, but to pairs or groups of people and is actually all about finding connection. It’s utterly bizarre to think that we can experience love, at least this scientific definition of love, with a total stranger.
Fredrickson calls this physiological experience of connection positivity resonance, and has shown these micro-moments of shared kindness, compassion and understanding not only make us feel good, but may also make us healthier. In fact, these moments might allow us to live longer by lengthening our telomeres
If experiencing more love in our lives can boost our health, what can we do to harness fully this information? Here's what Frederickson and her team have shown:
Three Loving Connections
Frederickson and her team have shown the power of practicing Loving Kindness Meditation: a regular practice can lead to a boost in positivity and life satisfaction as well as a reduction in depressive and illness symptoms.
But even if you’re not a meditator, you might like to join me with your own "Three Loving Connections" experiment.
- Each day, look for three opportunities to connect with others (it could be a relative, friend, colleague, or complete stranger). Each interaction can be with the same person or with three different people.
- Approach this potential interaction with warmth, respect and good will.
- Make an effort to stay present and listen with an open heart.
- Offer your eye contact and (when appropriate) your touch.
- Share your own lighthearted thoughts and feelings.
Boosting Your Success Rate
I’ve been trying this out for a few weeks, and I’ve experienced some amazing micro-love moments. They’ve happened when I’d expect them to (seeing my best friend and her newborn baby), they’ve happened when I didn’t expected them to (while I was on a panel doing a live Q&A about my film, The Connection) and they’ve happened with hundreds of people all at once (the result of a swelling of shared joy that sprung up during a live Michael Franti gig).
I’ve also learned the hard way that not every exchange with every person is an opportunity for Fredrickson’s positivity resonance to blossom. (There was a rather uncomfortable moment with a parcel delivery guy who interpreted my eye contact and open conversation as an invitation for romance … awkward!)
It turns out that this scientific version of love flourishes only under very specific circumstance. According to Fredrickson, the two key ingredients are a feeling of safety and "real-time sensory connection." Eye contact may well be the most potent trigger, though voice, touch and laughter can also help. Above all, Fredrickson is adamant that the key is physical presence.
For my own experiment, I’ve found that often the circumstances aren’t right because the other person I’m hoping to connect with is busy, disconnected or mentally somewhere else; a symptom of the world we live in full of "things to do," email, texts, Instagram, XOXs and LOLs. More than ever, I’m conscious of missed opportunities for deep connection. Blink, and they’re gone.
I hope you're intrigued enough to start looking for your own micro moments of connection; after all, this kind of loving mindfulness has the potential to profoundly change our connectedness with each other and with ourselves. Happy positive resonating!
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