BARBARA FREDERICKSON SAYS that it’s the “micro-moments of connection” — something as simple as sharing a heartfelt smile with the person who’s just made your morning coffee — that are the building blocks of our ordinary happiness and wellbeing.
And she says she has some scientific research to prove it.
Frederickson is a professor of psychology and is the Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab (PEPLab) at the University of North Carolina. Her latest book is Love 2.0.
Speaking in Sydney at the two-day Happiness & Its Causes conference — on a panel that included His Holiness the Dalai Lama — Frederickson said that “Science is pointing us to how life giving those moments are to the human body.”
In her book, Love 2.0, Frederickson says that new science “illuminates for the first time how love, and its absence, fundamentally alters the biochemicals in which your body is steeped. They in turn can alter the very ways your DNA gets expressed within your cells. The love you do or do not experience today may quite literally change key aspects of your cellular architecture next season and next year — cells that affect your physical health, your vitality, and your overall wellbeing.”
And the professor is not talking about the notions of romantic love or intimacy or sexual desire we might have or the “unconditional” love with have for our families, or some “special bond or relationship”. Frederickson says she is talking about love from our body’s perspective.
“Love, as your body defines it, is not exclusive, not something to be reserved for your soul mate, your inner circle, your kin, or your so-called loved ones,” she writes. “Love’s reach turns out to be far wider than we’re typically coaxed to imagine. Even so, love’s timescale is far shorter than we typically think. Love, as you’ll see, is not lasting. It’s actually far more fleeting than most of us would care to acknowledge.”
It’s an intriguing principal and one that Frederickson has tested with a year-long randomized experiment she set up using loving kindness meditation practiced by Buddhists.
In the test she had a number of subjects with”no particular spiritual orientation” learn to still their minds and “expand their capacity for love and kindness” using the practice.
“They experienced more love, more engagement, more serenity, more joy, more amusement — more of every positive emotion we measured.”
What’s more they then took what they had learned out into their ordinary lives and Frederickson discovered that their new meditative practice “warmed their connections with others”. It was also these connections, her research later found, that “most affected their bodies” and made them healthier.
The experiments made the psychologist “rethink love” says Frederickson and that there are practical, evidence-based-proven ways to generate more of it for the benefit of both ourselves and others.
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