The more I research happiness, the more I come back to love. What’s funny is that it seems that love can end up being the thing we focus on the least. We know it’s important but we can tend to take love for granted. We focus our attention instead on paying the bills, meeting the deadlines, pleasing the boss, making money, being the best, owning a beautiful house, having 2.5 kids (never got the half kid statistic thing:) We think it’s a given right? Your family has to love you. Your kids, well at this point it’s become common for people to joke about what their kids will talk about in future therapy. Your husband, wife, partner, well they said they were in it for the long haul but then again there’s that statistic that tells us divorce is at an all time high. We are in a race to the finish line but what really will be important when we get there? Love actually. We get it intellectually but we struggle with living from the heart given the complexity of the world we live in. Talking with people about my recent career change has been interesting to say the least. More and more people have told me they not longer work just 40 hours but most are working 50-70 hours a week. These days we are spending less time and energy with our loved ones. There is less attention devoted to our relationships because we are focused on the real life stressors of bills and keeping a job in a difficult economy. And then there is keeping up buying, spending, accumulating stuff. In the short time I have been in my career shift it has begun to see how my distraction with the stressors in life was impacting me and my relationships. You may be thinking, “ya well that’s just how it is. Life is expensive.” Is that true? Is this the best we can do? Must we live on this fast track to no where only to later realize how it’s affected us and those we love? In pondering this conundrum, I turned to do a little research about love and what happens in our bodies.
The brain on love is a funny thing. Yes, I did phrase that right, the brain is ON love just like it would be ON say cocaine. This Ted talks with Helen Fisher discusses how addictive love can be and how it attaches to similar receptor sites as cocaine The Brain in Love . Fisher created Chemistry.com, an online dating site. Oh god, yet another one of those dating websites that give single folks the message that it’s their last ditch effort on their way to old, gray and disgruntled. The idea being that in this world of detachment the internet is the only hope people have of attaching. Ahhh interesting what keeps us separate is the only hope we have to come together. Well instead of focusing on this insanity let’s switch back to the brain on love! The brain gets flooded with lots of lovely chemicals when we come into unison with a person that gets us all wiggly giggly. When we are in love, we get kinda stupid right? It’s one of the reasons why people who fall in and out of love will say “never again.” Biologically what occurs is the frontal cortex which is responsible for rational decision making and organization, shuts down as the part of the brain that is about pleasure begins to light up. Yes, you forget things, lose things, in fact lose sight of everything else when you fall in love. The brain is flooded with dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of happiness and elation and also relates to anger. Serotonin levels decrease with romantic love which causes us to mimic behaviors similar to someone with obsessive compulsive disorder. All this is why we may seem emotionally charged when in the initial throws of falling in love. Clear and rational decision making is just not possible. And then we have oxytocin, the “tend and befriend” hormone that is plentiful in women just after child birth. Oxytocin is what gives us that glazed over look in our eyes. Damn, we just become a hot mess when falling in love! On top of it all we have mirror neurons which are responsiblefor helping us connect with feelings of love and empathy for others.
These neurons are what are responsible for “chemistry.”
Given all this, it makes perfect sense that we would try to compartmentalize our relationships putting love in a shoe box left at home on the door step. But it’s this compartmentalized way of living that is getting us to the finish line of this lifetime at a more rapid pace. In an article in the New York Times “The Brain on Love” The Brain on Love Dr. Dan Siegal is quoted in the article stating “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom, point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.” This is in line with Fisher’s findings as well. So being in love may make you stupid initially but it also makes you healthy. Being in loving relationships also decreases the potential for suicidal ideation. When our mirror neurons connect it helps us feel witnessed, seen and heard. This makes being in the world with all the stressors a whole lot easier. Humans are meant to be in community, not in captivity. It also promotes neuroplasticity which is the process of the brain creating new cells and synapses. Neuroplasticity happens when we challenge our brain to learn new things. Being in relationship to others isn’t easy, right? You need to be flexible and along the way you often find yourself learning and growing. So you see, being connected in love is crucial to overall wellness. You can have a whole lot of money and accomplishments but in the end if you haven’t truly loved, well that’s the true definition of poverty.
All this makes me think, where are we truly headed? It would seem into a brick wall. We are maxed out. and not bionic. The body will give out at some point. It is usually at that point that we begin to see what truly matters. Yes, the bills need to get paid and there are other real life issues that need to be dealt with. We can’t all just sit around in a big love fest thinking that the Universe will provide because we have our own personal responsibilities as well. But if we keep putting the material ahead of love, we are going to continue to find major atrocities occurring. It’s time to begin to make love our priority. From an open and loving heart things fall into place. I am noticing this for myself. I ruled from my head for far too long. What is one thing you can begin to do for yourself that will help you make love your priority?