For centuries, people have tried to understand the mysterious force known as love. It’s no wonder that this concept has been the source of poetry, songs and philosophical treatises. But the truth is, like many emotions, it’s really a chemical process that can be measured and studied.
When you’re in love, the part of your brain that helps you detect danger and make decisions (the amygdala) goes into hiatus, while areas of the brain associated with dopamine and euphoria light up. In fact, scientists have been able to measure this phenomenon with MRI scans. The result is that, when you’re in love, your brain is “high” on the object of your affection — just like a drug addict is high on cocaine.
This is why you get that butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms and pitter-patter of the heart feeling — because the brain on a love high releases lots of dopamine. That’s why we want to spend time with the person we love and why it feels so good when they call or text. So if you think about it, it’s not surprising that love is actually quite addictive.
It’s not just about romance: You can feel love for family, friends and pets. Love can also be a spiritual experience. It can be the kind of love that drives people to promote well-being on a global scale, such as Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. And it can be the kind of love that allows us to forgive our enemies and to look at a world full of hurting, desperate people and still find a way to give them hope.
Scientists have proposed several different definitions of love based on the ways in which we think about it and how it affects our behavior. Some of these are rooted in biology, while others are based on psychology. For example, biological models of love see it as a biological drive similar to hunger or thirst, while psychological theories view it more as a combination of sexual attraction and attachment.
But there’s one thing all of these definitions have in common — they all involve a sense of awe and gratitude. And these are the feelings that happy people have in abundance. So the next time you hear someone spout the cliche “I love everyone” try to appreciate their awe and gratitude for what they have in life. It’s a pretty sure bet that they’re going to be a very happy person.