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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

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