Science & Technology

Love: What’s the point?

Jeremy Adam Smith

“Valentine’s Day is a commercial sham!” said one friend. “Valentine’s Day propaganda is everywhere!” said another. “Heterosexist!” cried a commentator on our Facebook page.

Lots of people hate Valentine’s Day. For some very good reasons: It is commercial; it is heterosexist; it does make involuntary singles weep into their beers.

But we at the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center still used the day as an excuse to publish a series of articles about the new science of love. I think of it as an effort to reclaim Valentine’s Day from the greeting-card companies and use it as an opportunity to reflect upon love as “the supreme human emotion,” as UNC psychologist and Love 2.0 author Barbara Fredrickson calls it.

In her essay for us, “How to Renew an Old Love,” Dr. Fredrickson draws on her research to redefine love as a fleeting feeling, but one that is infinitely renewable:

If I take my body’s perspective on love seriously, it means that right now—at this very moment in which I’m crafting this sentence—I do not love my husband. Our positivity resonance, after all, only lasts as long as long as we two are physically or emotionally engaged with one another. Bonds last. Love doesn’t. The good news is that love is a renewable resource.

In my own piece, “How Love Grows in Your Body,” I try to trace the biological path of love from the wild, youthful passion born in the hypothalamus to the mature compassion that is regulated by the vagus nerve. Understanding that love is as much a physical process as a feeling helps us, I think, to understand why love evolves the way it does–and to anticipate the changes it brings. Here are some other Valentine’s Day day pieces from Greater Good:

We also have two quizzes based on scientifically validated scales: One that measures the compassion of your love; another that tests the level of trust in your relationship. And we haven’t neglected the sexual dimensions of love:

But what happens in your body when romance ends? We covered that as well:

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