There are many different types of love, romantic love, parental love, sibling love, it is the glue that holds us all together and makes life worth living.
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Love is also about being loved so receiving love and giving it back. Love is deemed by everyone to be one of the most important things in life and so happiness is hugely linked to being both loved and the lover.
But what are the actual reasons why love is so powerful and important to human life, we take a look at some of the most fundamental.
Love is powerful, as strong as medication in its effect on the human brain. Scientists have monitored the effect of love on the brain patterns of smitten individuals using imagery of their loved one. The results showed that the part of the brain which responds is the same area as that which reacts to powerful drug addiction. One of the co-authors of the study, Arthur Aron PhD who is a psychologist at the State University of New York reports that “...you start to crave the person you’re in love with like a drug.” How did that old song go by Roxy Music, ‘Love is the Drug’? And there are many many more in that genre.
Aron has been researching the effects of love on the human brain for around three decades. Love stimulates the brain in exactly the same way as powerful painkillers or drugs like cocaine. But there is a lot of interesting interrelationship between the feelings of love and the feelings of pain. This is because love and cocaine target the same ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain called dopamine and this is also highly influential in the management of pain. So love really does hurt!
Studies have revealed that intense feelings of love, most commonly associated with the early stages of a relationship – usually the first nine months - can also diminish feelings of pain by up to 50%. Described as love induced analgesia, this pain management is more focused on the reward centre in the brain which mimics how opiate-based painkillers work, at a deep spinal level.
Opioid addiction is repetitive so the brain tells the body that this is good, it is a reward and you really need to keep doing it, exactly the intense feelings of obsession and desire which are evident in the heady days of fledgeling love affairs.
Love and the need to be loved is a very basic and primal human instinct. Add to this the evolutionary wiring which insists that we look for a mate in order to multiply and survive and you have something deeply elemental, hard-wired into the human psyche.
The area of the brain which creates the intense addictive feelings of overwhelming passion and desire is known as ‘the pleasure centre’ and is also inextricably linked to man’s basic instinct to survive. It works on the simple premise of that we recognise when something feels good and we want to repeat it so satisfying hunger, becoming warm after being cold, the pleasure and enjoyment of sex.
Romantic love and pair bonding is a universal feature of nearly 90% of cultures in the world so found researchers at the University of Nevada. The chemicals, dopamine and Phenylethylamine or PEA which increase in density when we encounter love with another are linked to man’s earliest evolutionary desire to pair bond.
The strongest instinct in man is said to be to survive, closely followed by a drive to protect those he cares about. Survival, especially in the young or helpless, is usually based on the ability to form a protective bond with another, commonly a parent. That desire to shield and protect and for the young to seek it remains present in humans through into adult life where even the middle-aged will still seek comfort and moral support form a parent in times of crisis.
The chemical-induced pleasure that our brain creates during early love is so mashed up with our basic instinct to protect, survive and multiply, all hugely important to the human condition, but it is important to distinguish sex from love.
Love remains critically important throughout human existence but it changes from those early, heady days of passion and almost drug-induced intensity to something more enduring and long-lasting.
Love is powerful because it transforms and evolves throughout the course of relationships and the journey of human life. Early passionate love cannot last at that frenetic level of desire and intensity. It gives way to a more solid and durable state which can cement a relationship between two people together throughout the slings and arrows of life’s difficulties.
Love develops from the early passion and desire between two people into a more unified force which may then extend through the arrival of children, into familial love, a shared love for a child or children which also creates a further bond between the couple. In this context, love become multi-faceted and can manifest itself in myriad different ways making it one of the most diverse and complex of human emotions. It can be as in your face as the biggest of grand gestures or as subtle and meaningful as a glance across a room or a smile or the touch of a hand. With real deep and meaningful love, so often less is most definitely more.
As the Bible so eloquently puts it, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” [John 15:13]. Laying your life down for another is often thought of in a romantic or even familial context but what about the examples of comradeship and self-sacrifice in the two World Wars?
The shortened quotation, “Greater love hath no man than this” is frequently found at war memorials up and down the country, particularly to commemorate the Great War of 1914-1918. The meaning of the verse seems self-evident but in fact, there is a slightly different context to the language as highlighted by Dr Michael Snape, Reader in War, Religion and Society at the University of Birmingham.
Dr Snapes states that Jesus is actually speaking about himself and his ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross for the whole of mankind. Moreover, there is a wider resonance for those who lay down their lives for their faith and that was why the verse was so popularly used. It was to offer comfort to grieving families that their loved ones had lived and died for a higher cause and that their ultimate sacrifice was not in vain. This backdrop would have been totally understood at the time by a society which was far more religious than the one we live in today.
At the distance now of a century, these words have altered in their meaning, to reflect the heroic acts of self-sacrifice of which the two World Wars are littered. Call it immense bravery or call it the love of humankind, it is an example of the most powerful and deepest of loves that are not based on a physical attraction between the opposite sexes.
Love is powerful because it can morph into different states, transform itself into alternative shapes so rather like a virus, it can adapt and adjust to survive. But hopefully, nicer than a virus!
The frenetic and intense love of early relationships will subside, usually after an average of a year, into something that becomes less hectic and obsessive but yet deeper and in some ways, even more powerful. Think of that love progressing on the journey of a relationship and then, after some time, children arrive, hopefully cementing the bond even further and introducing a new type of love, familial love. This early love has begun as a seed germinating and grown from one vigorous shoot into the branches of a complex and established tree. It is strong because the trunk is broad and the branches are wide and high.
Love that can develop and metamorphoses is the strongest and most powerful because of its variety and extent. Love is clever, it knows that romantic love will burn out and is not sustainable over time. The early almost drug-inducing cravings reduce as time passes and longevity in the relationship usually produces a feeling of security and strength. This is when worries over breakups and other insecurities often fade away.
This is one of the reasons why love is so difficult to define, it is because it is constantly changing. Most people can give tangible examples of love but they struggle to actually define it in a few words. Hence, the reason why the word, ‘love’ is used out of context and abused too. ‘I love chocolate’ is not in quite the same league as a 25-year marriage although ironically, there might be some common ground in the addictive effects which chocolate can also have on the human brain.
All our lives as human beings, love is never far from us. Hopefully, we begin our journey conceived in love. We are nurtured through parental love before growing up and finding our own romantic love and life partner or maybe multiple partners. We may then create our own family so experiencing parental love as the caregiver and nurturer and thus the cycle endlessly perpetuates itself. We still have the enduring love of our parents whilst they remain alive and other family members such as siblings and grandparents. Love is at every turn.
The proliferation of online dating sites indicates that those who are minus love in a romantic context feel hard done by and lonely. It seems that parental and sibling love and even the love of friends is not enough. The quest to find that one life partner, ‘the special one’ shows there are gradations of love and this one appears to be the most valuable. Immortalised in poetry, prose, songs and other media such as television and film, the journey to that one true love is as important now as it has ever been.
True love, romantic love, real love, call it what you will is definitely the ultimate prize. And it is from this premier love, this optimal emotion, this love to end all loves, that everything else cascades down as it is this love which begets human life and propagates the human race giving rise to sibling love, parental love and more distant family love. It is the spring of life and therein lies its inherent power and importance.
Love is not guaranteed, it doesn’t come with a hallmark of quality, integrity and its longevity if only it did. The innate insecurity of love, rather perversely, is what makes it so desirable and the subject of such focus and this is one of the reasons why it is so powerful. Not every fairytale encounter leads to a happy ending sadly.
Taking something for granted can devalue its importance in our life, we all do it and it is only when it is denied us or taken away that we really appreciate the true value of what we had. Take our health as one example, unappreciated probably until it is challenged or something as simple as a good job or a lovely home and especially, a relationship.
In the early days of a new relationship, passionate love is insecure, not certain, not guaranteed. There is always that wonder, that question, does he or she feel the same way about me and, to the same degree? That’s the problem with addictive feelings (and substances). We are out of control to some degree and want a guarantee that we can have our next fix. But those initial romantic feelings are vulnerable and delicate, intense and compelling but never guaranteed.
When something is not a dead cert in our lives, when we know we can’t take it for granted, human nature is thus that it evaluates the importance of that commodity; often its value becomes directly related to its availability. Something that is an ultimate to us as human beings but is not guaranteed is attributed a worth beyond all worths. And there is something to be said for the scarcity value of real true love.
Same sex love is hugely powerful because it has been fought for and hard-won in different societies where acceptance and tolerance have been a long slow battle.
Some might say same sex love is even more powerful and important because it has had to undergo resistance, intolerance and even physical and verbal abuse throughout its passage to a more visible presence in society. Being persecuted in one form or another seems to have made the prize even more worthy and coveted.
It is a perversity of human nature that if something is illicit or illegal or even just frowned upon, it is somehow more attractive and sought after than if it were transparent and accepted. Same sex love has enjoyed something of this cachet which has imbued it with a power and significance which ironically might wane a little now that there are more openness and tolerance.
The picture is becoming more complete as same sex couples are now allowed to adopt and are recognised legally as ‘parents’ so sharing the same branches on the love tree as heterosexual couples. The fight for acceptance will transition into a more solid and open family love rather like that enjoyed by other members of society.
Real true and enduring love is rare, isn’t it? Many people spend their entire lives on a quest for it. It is the one thing money can’t buy and sadly some people never do seem to stumble upon it whereas others manage to locate the source of the holy grail and have long happy and loving relationships.
Anything that is rare and beautiful will always have mysticism and lure, like the visible lustre of an imperial Faberge Easter egg. It is human instinct to want to reach out for the unattainable but it is important to be careful not to muddle up wanting a particular person with wanting the actual status and condition of love itself. The more desirable that person as well, the more people say how amazing he or she is, the more the kudos increases.
It is well known in business and retail studies that scarcity functions like an obstacle which makes the pursuit of that particular goal or end product even more desirable. Think Chanel or other designer brands. Does the fact that real, true love is not as common as would like to think it is mean that we crave it more just for this very fact?
It is a well-known selling device by retailers to create a perception of scarcity in order to drive up sales. Using the phrase ‘limited edition’ or implying that something is a special purchase or of a limited supply also seeks to pique customer interest and buying power. Equally, offering eye-watering discounts is something many people feel they cannot miss out on even though they may not really want or need that item.
Real love is a scarce commodity and so its value and power and importance is seriously highlighted by this fact.
Love is part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is a motivational psychological theory comprising a five-tier model of essential human needs depicted as a colourful pyramid. This was Abraham Maslow’s view of what humans require to grown and finally meet what he describes as, ‘self-actualization’ so leading a fulfilling and complete existence, achieving the destiny of one’s own potential. Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who died in 1970. His theory was unveiled in a paper published in 1943 called, “A Theory of Human Motivation”.
The shape of the triangle clearly depicts the layering up of basic human needs starting with the physical or as Maslow describes it, the ‘physiological’ so oxygen, food and water. Safety is next followed by love and belonging. Esteem follows love with the apex of the pyramid being self-actualisation which Maslow defines as, “what a man can be, he must be.”
Maslow’s love recognises something beyond pure sex and the need to reproduce. It embraces familial love and love for animals and also objects so it is love in the fullest sense of the word and emotion. Maslow’s hierarchy is as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago when it was first propounded. People argue and debate the relevance, they speculate on the pyramid being built in a different order – Maslow was quite insistent about the order in which he built it – and interestingly, he has placed love right in the centre of the grouping. But absolutely no-one disputes the power and importance of love and its place on the image.
Listing the number of reasons why love is so important and powerful to human life, is probably just as challenging as trying to define love in its entirety. Almost anyone you ask will have a different opinion and create a unique list and yet everyone’s list will be correct and valid because, in truth, the reasons why love is so important and powerful to human life are almost too numerous to mention.
One thing that remains indisputable however and that is that love is integral to human life, it is both powerful and important. List your reasons and then share this article with your friends and see what they think.