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Science says everlasting love is a myth

Love isn't what we think it is, one researcher says—but it might be better.

By Kristin Wong Jan 29, 2013 5:28PM

If you have fairy tale expectations, you may want to proceed with caution.

This week, the Atlantic posted a piece on Barbara Fredrickson's new book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. In her book, Fredrickson describes a new concept of love that is dramatically different from our traditional definition. Instead of an everlasting, always-present emotion, Fredrickson says that love is a "micro-moment of positivity romance."

Fredrickson explains that love is simply a rush of positive emotions one feels in a certain instance. This rush can happen with anyone, even a stranger on the street, the article points out.

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The Heart Beat spoke with Fredrickson about this new view of love. Specifically, we were curious how it fit in with marriage, science and soul mates.

"People have strong personal beliefs about love and may mistakenly think that I am asking them to trade in their own cherished view of love in favor of this new definition," Fredrickson told The Heart Beat. " A concept as rich as love, however, can be approached and understood from many different angles…"

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Fredrickson's definition of love is more universal. It's less about romance and more about compassion. It's what's at the heart of 'Love Makes the World Go 'Round.'

"I wrote the book because the scientific evidence has convinced me that how we think about love matters," Fredrickson continues.

The vagus nerve is one of three biological factors responsible for the feeling of love. Scientists believed a person's capacity to love—their vagal tone—was stable; it wasn't something that could increase, they thought. But Fredrickson debunked that notion in a 2010 study.

Fredrickson asked participants to practice a Buddhist "loving-kindness meditation."  Subjects cultivated feelings of love and peace toward another human being. After the meditation, Fredrickson measured the participants' vagal tone and found that there was a significant increase. Her findings were so substantial that she was asked to present them to the Dalai Lama.

So if love isn't some star-crossed, meant-to-be force and instead a series of controllable biological functions, what does this mean for the concept of soul mates?

"I have no quarrel with the idea of 'soul mates,'" Fredrickson said. "A soul mate, according to this new perspective, is someone who deeply understands your inner-workings and uses this privileged knowledge thoughtfully, for your benefit, to create frequent moments of connection, or what I call 'positivity resonance.'"

Her theory also doesn't discount marriage:

"I see marriage as a commitment ceremony, a pledge to be loyal to one another to the end. Such commitments create foundations of safety and trust that support more frequent experiences of positivity resonance, which over time help each partner become their best."

Overall, Fredrickson's theory may be an improved view of love. Her angle expands the definition to include the compassion and warmth we're able to feel for those around us.

"It offers new lenses through which to view your every interaction with others and can help you see those interactions as precious opportunities to nourish health, both your own and that of others, and to unlock collective capacity. Love becomes a forever-renewable resource, if you know how to tap into it."

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Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images

Mar 6, 2013 6:55PM
love affects the same part of a brain that is affected by, say, a cocaine addict -thus the saying "love is like a drug". love is just a word to call it something. people feelings change, everything flows. we seek other people's warmth just so we don't lose ourselves in a crowd, knowing that there's someone in this planet who can single us out.

there's no such thing as "fated one", since if you wait for him/her to come to you, you might have to sit out your whole existence.
my belief is that each individual's happiness is their own responsibility (got nothing to do with god/fate) -and if that happiness is by having that man/woman by your side, you're on the right track.
Feb 12, 2013 12:17PM

True love is the only thing that is real.  It is a decision we make.  Love or fear...your choice!

Feb 12, 2013 12:09PM
According to Budha .there nothing everlasting in this universe....
Feb 12, 2013 7:46AM
"Science" over-analyzes everything! Sometimes, you just gotta have faith!
Feb 12, 2013 6:36AM
If two people work at it and truly have a commiment, there is such a thing as everlasting love, albeit it may be one=sided.  It's not just lust, or needing to be with someone, but a true inner feeling that this is a person that complimnets your existence and even though there may be tough times to ovecome, staying together is more fulfilling than the alternative.  I know, I feel it.
Feb 12, 2013 5:54AM
So what is the feeling someone has for a parent, a child, any other family member or even a friend? Is there a biological explanation for that? It's sad that only one loving relationship is examined over and over again. A significant other is a deep loving friendship and when they get married they become a family member.  I think it's time to start writing books questioning the love between parents and children, that would be a refreshing change.
Feb 12, 2013 5:20AM
Meh. Love is nothing more than an illusion....
Feb 12, 2013 2:57AM

Thiry years ago they answered the question "What's the difference between herpes and true love?"


Herpes is forever.


There's nothing new under the sun.

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