Many of us hear about “love at first sight,” “love in the beginning,” and “falling in love.” Often, we think of romantic love—that intense desire for a partner and attachment that is triggered by the hormones oxytocin and neurotrophins. But love can come in so many different forms. It might be the way we care for our children, the passion we put into a creative project, or even the loyalty we have to our favorite sports team.
Regardless of the type, love has been shown to affect us in profound ways. It has been linked to higher levels of happiness, greater longevity in relationships, and stronger mental health. So, what does it really mean to love someone? While it’s easy to focus on the emotional aspects, it’s just as important to consider the biological and behavioral effects of love.
Scientists have found that the brain changes triggered by new love cause an immediate, short-lived high. These include feelings of giddiness, dopamine release, and increased activity in parts of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. These effects might explain why people feel euphoric when they see their significant other or hear their name, even if they haven’t seen each other in a while.
Researchers have also found that those in love display more generosity, prosocial behavior, and empathy compared to non-lovers. In addition, they are more likely to help their loved ones out and seek opportunities for togetherness. They are also more likely to forgive their partners and prioritize spending time with them over other activities. In a more clinical sense, love can also be described as the tendency to sacrifice oneself for those you care about, which is why it’s so easy to see this kind of love in parents who take their children to the doctor when they are sick and prioritize their needs over their own.
Despite all these positive effects, love isn’t always easy. It might be harder to show compassion when your partner is having a hard day, or it might be hard to admit that you’re hurting. It might be frustrating to watch them make a mistake, or it might feel like they’re ignoring you when they’re distracted by their work. And sometimes, it’s simply not worth the effort.
It’s no wonder that so many couples say they’re “in love.” While it’s true that the feeling of love is a complex emotion, it’s also clear that the act of loving requires a lot of work. It’s a daily choice to prioritize each other and to forgive one another when they screw up. It’s putting your best foot forward and letting them know you value them, no matter how the day goes. It’s being able to recognize that this kind of love can survive even the toughest of times.