Did you get your daily diet of LOVE today?

December 6, 2013

By: Jenny Simonson

This week I learned of Barbara Fredrickson’s leading research on positive emotions. She spoke about love as critical to building a meaningful life, but not in the traditional Hollywood-romantic-comedy way. She defined love as the most positive of the positive emotions—the feeling you get when you really relate to someone, when you click, or when you have moments of connection, even if it’s with a stranger.


Jenny and her brother

To me, love is the moments spent laughing with my brother until the early hours of the morning, once we’ve both come home for the holidays. We slip back into our old silly antics in our parents’ kitchen, eat popcorn, and bond over our favorite TV episodes of New Girl or whatever show has our attention that season. We connect in a special way even after months apart. Love is the time when I meet a new friend for a beer at a local Los Angeles pizza joint after a tough day at work. We relate to each other’s personal and professional goals. We feel comfort in our shared experiences and feelings on the difficulties of navigating our still immature professional lives while trying to imagine and construct our dream jobs. A year later and we are close friends, planning an adventurous trip to South America together. And sometimes a love moment is just the simple encounter with a stranger who compliments your new shoes, leading to the two of you spending the next five minutes bonding over the convenience of online shopping.

Barbara tells us that these episodes of love matter in the present moment, but their power really lies in the way they compound to build a more dramatic force in our lives. They ultimately change who we are[1]. She also found that people who have more of these experiences are more healthy physically, have more gratifying relationships, are more resilient when faced with adversity and savor good experiences more[2],[3],[4]. They are critical for building more purposeful lives.

So, if these connections are so important to our emotional and physical health, how can we cultivate more of them in our lives?

In order to have more of these moments we have to feel safe, or comfortable, in our environment. This provides two important lessons for me. First, it means that supportive communities are a necessary part of my life. I can reflect back on times when I have felt the most fulfilled, and it has been when I felt that I was a valuable part of a community of people. This has been in my work life, when I felt that I was part of a supportive community of colleagues in which I felt comfortable being myself, and also in my personal life as a member of an encouraging and spirited triathlon team.

The other important lesson is that the uncomfortable moments when starting something new – MBA program (as I am now) or a new job (hopefully upon graduation!) – are okay. In fact, they are also a critical part of my life. I tend to avoid putting myself through these first encounters, and I get down on myself when I feel awkward in these situations. But creating communities takes time. A new job or new school may not feel safe yet, so it’s important to see the potential and build a comfortable place over time. Self-compassion is critical in these moments as I remind myself of the bigger picture of what I am trying to create.  The more I go outside my comfort zone more, the closer I am to summiting this hump to bring me to a better place. It’s important to embrace the spaces where I can get my daily diet of love, while also continuing to create communities where I see potential. The uncomfortable moments are easy to avoid, but important to my long-term love health.

How can you cultivate more of these moments in your life?


[2] Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M. A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological Science, 24, 1123-1132.

[3] Tugade, M. M. & Fredrickson, B. L. (2007). Regulation of positive emotions: Emotion regulation strategies that promote resilience. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8, 311-333.

[4] Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions. American Scientist, 91, 330-335.