When the calendar turns to the month of February we generally think two things. One, Valentine’s Day, and two, is this a leap year?! Although both may cross your mind, your brain is probably already filling up with images of hearts, chocolates, and maybe even fun gifts from your loved ones. That’s because the holiday of love is overpowering other calendar events, just as the emotion itself overpowers other emotions.
Love is often an emotion we describe as indescribable, probably because when we’re in it we’re too high to describe it! Well, not exactly, but when we are in love our brain releases similar euphoria-inducing chemicals that it does when smoking things like cocaine! A study by professor Stephanie Ortigue of Syracuse University called “The Neuroimaging of Love” showed chemicals such as vasopressin, adrenaline, oxytocin, and dopamine being released in 12 areas of the brain that work simultaneously when we are falling in love.
These are strong and addictive human-made chemicals. Oxytocin for example, commonly referred to as the love hormone, is often released during orgasm and strengthens intimacy, trust, and healthy relationships. Dopamine then adds to the effect by stimulating our pleasure center and activating our reward circuit, making us want love again and again.
And, in fact, research has shown that couples who are falling in love show very high levels of both oxytocin and dopamine. So, I guess Robert Palmer was scientifically correct when he sang, “You’re gonna have to face it you’re addicted to love!
But the emotion of love isn’t exclusively linked to romantic or family relationships. Yes, we love our partner and our family, but we can also love a lot of other things/people. If love can be at least somewhat boiled down to the release of chemicals in our brain, then when those chemicals are released due to positive experiences, we may also be feeling the emotion of love.
Positive psychologist Barbara M. Fredrickson likes to call this “positivity resonance”. In her book Love 2.0 she explains that, “Love 1.0 [is] the emotion you feel for your “soul mate” or kids or family; …etc….[but] Love 2.0 is ubiquitous. It’s that ‘micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being.’” For example that feeling you get when you’re belting the lyrics at your favorite artists’ concert with a complete stranger… that’s love too.
So spread the love this February, and have a euphoric Valentine’s Day!