Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Love: What's the point?

By Jeremy Adam Smith

"Valentine's Day is a commercial sham!" said one friend. "Valentine's Day propaganda is everywhere!" said another. "Heterosexist!" cried a commentator on our Facebook page.

Lots of people hate Valentine's Day. For some very good reasons: It is commercial; it is heterosexist; it does make involuntary singles weep into their beers.

But we at the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center still used the day as an excuse to publish a series of articles about the new science of love. I think of it as an effort to reclaim Valentine's Day from the greeting-card companies and use it as an opportunity to reflect upon love as "the supreme human emotion," as UNC psychologist and Love 2.0 author Barbara Fredrickson calls it.

In her essay for us, "How to Renew an Old Love," Dr. Fredrickson draws on her research to redefine love as a fleeting feeling, but one that is infinitely renewable:

If I take my bodys perspective on love seriously, it means that right nowat this very moment in which Im crafting this sentenceI do not love my husband. Our positivity resonance, after all, only lasts as long as long as we two are physically or emotionally engaged with one another. Bonds last. Love doesnt. The good news is that love is a renewable resource.

In my own piece, "How Love Grows in Your Body," I try to trace the biological path of love from the wild, youthful passion born in the hypothalamus to the mature compassion that is regulated by the vagus nerve. Understanding that love is as much a physical process as a feeling helps us, I think, to understand why love evolves the way it does--and to anticipate the changes it brings. Here are some other Valentine's Day day pieces from Greater Good:

    Gratitude is for Lovers: New research by Cal doctoral student Amie M. Gordon says thankfulness, not romance, might be key to a happy Valentine's Day.

Just One Thing: Trust in Love: Love is a lot like the air, says neuropsychologist Rick Hanson. It may be hard to seebut its in you and all around you.

How to Have a Happy Marriage in 21 Minutes: A recent study validates a simple task that might preserve marital satisfaction over the long haul.

Is It Possible to Love All Humanity?: A former Cal doctoral student, Juliana Breines, discusses how qualities like gender, ethnicity, and nationality tend to define us more than being human. What happens when we try to love all of humanity?

Love in the Classroom, Beyond Candy Hearts and Raging Hormones: Our education director Vicki Zakrzewski asked for stories of love in education. Here are some of the moving responses.

We also have two quizzes based on scientifically validated scales: One that measures the compassion of your love; another that tests the level of trust in your relationship. And we haven't neglected the sexual dimensions of love:

Greater Good Sex Tips for Guys: Jeremy Adam Smith offers three science-based sex tips for the emotionally intelligent gentleman.

But what happens in your body when romance ends? We covered that as well: