Do you want to live with less stress or have greater emotional stability? Do you want to eliminate anger and frustration? Do you want more commitment in a relationship? Do you want to be more content in monotony? Do you want to help (and improve) the behavior of those around you?
Then love may be your answer.
We may think of love as a feeling we manufacture, but research tells us that love isn’t really a feeling we should try to generate, but instead, an action we should emulate.
Actions of love elicits “feel-good” feelings by spiking dopamine in our brain. Hugs, receiving praise and acts of kindness (such as serving others) triggers a dopamine response which may not only make us feel good, but increases pro-social behaviors.1
Scientists have done several studies on the effects of love and why it is so important to the survival of the human race. Researchers have examined the brains of people “experiencing” love and have found three primary chemicals associated with it: dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin.
Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical that has very important functions. It is not only primarily responsible for making us “feel good,” but also vitally important in memory formation and learning.2 Endorphins, on the other hand, are natural pain-killing compounds that blocks physical pain signals in the brain and promotes emotional stability. While, oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” promotes bonding behaviors.
Research reveals that oxytocin is critical for developing relationships and goes beyond just the mating aspect of romantic relationships. Oxytocin has been found in many lines of research to improve trust, increase social bonding, reduce stress and diminish fear.3
The release of oxytocin is triggered when bonding moments begin. For example, when a mother breast-feeds her infant, the mammary gland dilates the blood vessels and the mother is not only preparing to give milk, but actually transmits warmth to the infant. This oxytocin effect produces long-term relaxation and has “caring” behavioral effects on the mother.4
In one study, rats that were lactating were actually less responsive to stressful stimuli than the non-lactating group. 5 Other research revealed that breast-feeding women were more calm and social. These anti-stress effects not only contributed to decreased stress, but also increased positive social behaviors. 6 Calmness and “being content” in monotony was also amongst these discoveries.
Evolutionary psychologists have found that love is not only what binds people together in monogamous and committed relationships7 but is also extremely important to the survival of a species and is one of the strongest emotions that trump all others.8
Dr. Fisher, who analyzed over 3000 brain scans of people in “romantic love” explains that emotions and motivations in the brain are hierarchical – in a pecking order of complex and basic emotions. “Fear can overcome joy… jealousy stifles tenderness.” But love, is different from all others. It is the “zenith, the pinnacle, the top. It stifles fear, anger and distrust.”9
Counseling professionals often emphasize the importance of having loved ones involved in the therapeutic process. Loved ones engaged in a supportive way not only provides coaching and encouragement, but also has a calming, leveling and stabling effect on the individual.
Our brains are also wired to respond at an unconscious level to social stimuli by boosting dopamine at the sight of beautiful faces,10 viewing positive emotional expressions in others,11 and even at the anticipation of social encouragement and feedback.12
As viewed by researchers in MRI studies, love has to do more with “comfort” and is different than a “reward” or “pleasure”– such as those activated by drugs. Comfort is to “console” or “reassure.” It causes a dramatic reduction in stress. Neurobiology has revealed that this “comfort” is modulated in the parasympathetic areas of the autonomic nervous system and boosts endorphins up to 300 percent! 13
We can gain “pleasure” through “rewards.” But comfort is different. It is obtained by seeking something else, something greater. It is the result of love.