Every time my students would take the VIA survey on Character Strengths and ‘Love’ would show up in their top 5, there was a mix of embarrassment and denial on their faces – almost as though a dirty little secret of their inner lives had just been revealed and they needed to distance themselves from it as fast and as far as possible.
I could see why – their peers (without the strength) would find it hilarious and tease them, even sing ballads in their honour. All without a single one of them stopping to even read what the strength represented.
Truth be told, I myself was a little quizzical about what love had to do with the entire strengths scene. After all love would hardly help in life situations where you need to make tough decisions or act with grit and self-discipline. I often brushed aside this strength when going over the survey with them and wished it could be swapped with something more actionable and productive.
This was a while back. My work brought me at the crossroads of Positive Psychology and Neuroscience and I began to study the effects of love on the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. That was the start of one exciting discovery after another and today I am a love addict!
We have become accustomed to using love in a very limited sense, discarding all wonderful nuances and breath of what love is all about. At its very core, love is secure attachments. It is about feeling appreciated, liked, seen and felt by another. It is about human bonding and given that we are the most social animals on the planet, it makes sense that we grow through connected positivity. Helen Keller wrote in her autobiography about the moment she was able to share the feeling of water on her hands with her caregiver and finally felt understood. In her words, that instant “my mind was born”. Literally.
Hooking up our brains
When we feel loving or loved, neurotransmitters are released from our brain cells that ‘excite’ the cell body they connect to creating enough vibrations for the receiving cell body to do the same to a third cell body and so on creating circuits and literally hooking up our brains. This not only broadens our cognitive, social and emotional capacities in the present, it also builds durable personal resources for the future and fundamentally changes us. A well hooked up brain, and especially the prefrontal cortex is the marker of resilience and brain health. It allows us to make tough decisions and stay on course towards our goals. It is also the seat of our identity and the fuel behind our passions and purpose in life. The Beatles were definitely on to something when they sang “All you need is love”. We continue to uncover the truth of it every day.
What I do with my class now is have a lesson on love and its benefits before the students get their survey results back. The impact is huge. If love shows up in their top 5, they actually feel quite proud!
Now I’d love to hear back from you! How do you view love in your life? Do you gain strength from close attachments?