What is love? Baby, don't hurt me.
Love is tough to narrow down. Poets write about it, philosophers discuss it, musicians sing about it, and most humans crave it — but actually defining love is complex.
Once you have it, you will know it, but holding onto it isn't always easy. Fortunately, science can help us define love, find it, and even keep it going over the long run.
Here are 6 scientifically proven facts about love.
1. The brain responds differently to love than to lust.
While chemistry and passion are a crucial component of love, they aren't enough on their own. This is why the majority of one night stands and intense summer romances fail. Brain scans have actually revealed that the brain responds differently to love than it does to lust.
While lust activates the brain regions associated with rewards such as pleasure, love activates the regions that deal with the most basic rewards, like getting water when you’re thirsty. Love is a long-term drive. Lust for one person doesn’t last for hours, months and years without stopping. Over time, passion can lead to love, but it is a mistake to confuse these very different responses.
2. Love is both a feeling and a conscious decision.
Have you ever felt hopelessly in love? Research shows that in certain moments, people who are deeply in love tend to mirror each other’s physiological rhythms. Throughout the day-to-day realities of life, people who are in love tend to think fondly of each other, take on novel new shared experiences, and work toward each other’s happiness.
Yet love is also a choice that you must make every day. Outside stressors, relationship squabbles, and conflicting priorities can cause even the most loving couples to grow apart. No matter how stressed or angry you are, it is important to consciously choose love and to respond in ways that support your relationship. Your feelings will ebb and flow in intensity over the years, but the intentionality of purposeful love can carry you through.
3. You can boost your ability to love.
Mindfulness has become a hot buzz word across many schools of thought, but research shows that it can actually improve the ability to love. Especially when paired with compassion meditation, mindfulness decreases activity in the fear and anger regions of the brain. It triggers positive feelings such as empathy and helps us to become more interconnected with others, including our romantic partners.
4. Love improves your physical health.
While romantic love is not the only option for boosting your overall health, having some form of love in your life is crucial to living a long and healthy life. Research has repeatedly shown that those who experience intense loneliness and disconnectedness are at a much higher risk for an early demise. Those who are deeply emotionally attached to someone tend to feel fitter and live longer.
5. Love is actually "catching."
You might have heard the quote, “All the world loves a lover.” It turns out that there is quite a bit of truth to this. Those who regularly exhibit the fundamental traits of love, such as compassion, empathy and genuine caring tend to inspire others to do the same. Whether you have a rock solid marriage or are a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama, modeling love is a gift that you can give to the world.
6. Love sometimes has to be learned.
Love demands trust, openness, and vulnerability. It is a higher order function that requires the brain’s prefrontal cortex to send the amygdala signals that are powerful enough to overcome the automatic fight or flight response. Those who have experienced trauma or abuse often have an overdeveloped fight or flight reaction that is extremely difficult to break through.
Over time, a patient partner can often teach someone struggling with this to experience love, especially if a professional therapist is involved. However, the person in question has to be psychologically and emotionally ready to undertake this often painful journey.
Never try to force a potential partner to love you, and do not sit around waiting for that person to be ready. If you have put in some time and effort with no change, you might be better served by moving on.
Love is hard to define, tough to find, and difficult to hold onto.
However, science holds valuable lessons that can demystify this complicated emotion and make it easier to find a meaningful, lasting love of your own.
Interested in the science of attraction and how it can help your relationship? We are neuroscientist Lucy L. Brown, PhD and biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, PhD — and we are eager to help you put the Anatomy of Love to work in your life.
This article was originally published at The Anatomy Of Love. Reprinted with permission from the author.