Updated: Mar 13
The heartfelt lyrical outpourings in countless songs, novels and poems are testament to love, actually, having quite alot to do with everything. Feeling deeply commited and connected to someone or something, can transform our life for the better. Countless studies show we thrive under the warm glow of love. Especially now, as Love in the Time of Covid has changed the nature of our relationships, of who we are, and how much value we place on a life we love, as much as the people within it.
So this Valentine's Day, let's take a look at what love is, and what love actually, you can create in your life. And where better to start than for the love we share with animals!
Love is … a special rapport
The rapport you can experience from an animal can make you feel you're needed and loved in a way that is really very special. What is remarkable is that this love is without the intricacies of a shared verbal language, but relies more on rapport, on movement and body cues, and building up a connection over time. Ask any dog, cat or horse owner, and they will invariably have a strong understanding of what that animals means just by a particular look or behaviour, and respond to help their pet meet that need, whether it's going outside, needing a quick cuddle, or reassurance that the way ahead is safe from lurking monsters.
Paying attention to someone's actions and behaviour can really help illuminate who cares about you, who has your back. Someone or something, that sees behind your "I'm fine ... really" and puts down their drink to walk you home. Or in the case of a pet, has that sixth sense and knows when you need a bit of love. Assistance and therapy animals transcend our social constructs of success, of wealth, status, beauty - and can see past the superficial to connect to the actual person beyond. It's rapport we feel for animals or friends that see us, who has a special place in our hearts. This article explores the benefits of canine assisted intervention, and the role dogs can play for teenagers - specifically 'attendance and retention, positive socialisation, and feelings of connection'.
Love is...a giving character
Expressing love or compassion for others benefits not just the person receiving the affection, but also the person who delivers it. Altruism is a well-known characteristic of happy people, and in many cases, it's time, effort and compassion that's given. But interestingly, giving money boosts happiness levels across different groups and cultures worldwide, and irrespective of how much money it is. As long as the intention is generous - it doesn't matter if it's trivial like a coffee for a friend, or has a profound effect such as paying for a disadvantaged child to go to school. In a particular study shown in this TED talk, £5 or £20 was given to people to spend on themselves or on someone else. Those who spent it on themselves felt no difference. Those that spent it on others, felt happier - demonstrating 'the deep-seated and universal nature of the need to love'.
Interestingly, being a 'giver' rather than a 'taker' at work, is also a telling indicator of a happy well-functioning team. The one bad apple of a taker can ruin team morale as credit for work is taken, or colleagues are sidelined for personal gain. So how do you know who's who? Well, ask them if they've helped anyone's career at work. There are those who'll talk about how they helped their boss, or those who talk about how they supported a junior colleague. Guess who's the giver?... So surround yourself with givers. Let the takers go from your life, they'll fade away or you can welcome them back if it was just a phase. And give a little something, when you can, to whoever you can. You'll get it back tenfold.
Love is ... a community spirit
Our sense of community spirit is felt in the micro-interactions of everyday life as well as the more organised community initiatives. The Thursday night #clapforourcarers event that gathered momentum and brought communities alive as people sung, clapped and recorded their love and care for the carers. Reciprocal symbiotic relationships, where being helpful is intertwined with being helped. It's often the moments that are unplanned, but exist absolutely in the now where you feel that you matter, that you make a difference.
A spontaneous chat with the shopkeeper who asks if you're "over your cold" validates your existence - a life saver and hero as much as any, in our isolated world of this pandemic. Or a postie who bizarrely asks if your package is your new dog bed? A golden thread of connection when you realise you were chatting to them yesterday on a dog walk, muffled up in coats and a hat but minus their post bag and uniform. Love thy neighbour . . . is life lived through, with and for, others.
Love is ... shared values
Virtual groups have thrived on social media as an antidote to our new loss of community as we struggle to cope with various degrees of lockdown. Uncertainty, loss of freedom, thwarted hopes and dreams have all been illuminated under the blue screen light. Support groups, student forums, local community groups are able to give crucial peer to peer support as humanity coalesces around shared values, and a common cause. And it works both ways. How proud were we as a community when our Facebook community group St Agnes Helping Hands was featured on BBC Radio Cornwall.
Love is ... doing the right thing
Virtual community groups are a catalyst for connecting people in real life - as people move between online and offline, to arrange beach clean-ups or sponsored walks, or a village rallying round to show support for locals living alone. These gateways to your own tribe can be powerful, whether local or global, as in the phenomena of climate change and the 'Blue Planet II Effect'. The connecting power of social media is largely credited with bringing the world's attention to plastic pollution in the ocean. The iconic image of a seahorse was part of a sea-change in attitudes and behaviours worldwide as people swapped plastic buds for cotton. Love for the planet, in action.
Love is ... an uplifting effect
Being romantically in love, is where dualities can collide. The push-pull, the commitment-rejection, the all or nothing. What is undisputed, is the uplifting, physical effect of romantic love, with the chemical rush of dopamine, serotine, oxytocin and endorphins. These uplifting hormones coursing through your body make you feel great, the world is great, and everything is wonderful as you skip along the street bathed in the light of being loved and loving someone madly, truly, deeply! Why is everyone else not feeling like this, you want to shout!
However. . . if your love life has crashed, the pain you feel is literally like withdrawing from an addiction, an intense pain that literally hurts as these love chemicals stop abruptly. You want that chemical fix back. Some find it in the classic artificial vices of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but it's generally just a little bit more healthy and sane to take stock and take a break. Find people who bring out the positive in you, who enrich you, and show you compassion, trust and support - particularly in the low times. The good news is that surrounding yourself with people who care about you, is that authentic love, balances you. Balanced relationships are a crucial element of feeling uplifted, and staying there. Antidotes to crashing and burning in the highs and lows of unfulfilling romantic love.
Love is ... a balanced love triangle
If you have been hurt intentionally by someone, take heart. Something to remember is that these people often want you to feel how they feel, to feel their pain, and this projection of confusion or self-loathing can be from someone with low self-esteem who doesn't actually, love themselves. Additionally, love isn't the harsh reality of attachment to someone who leaves you feeling confused, upset or just 'less than'. As the song goes... Where is the love?
The good news is that these happy hormones of romantic love can also be found in exercise. And of course chocolate. Running, swiming, yoga, walking the dogs, cycling - all get the feelgood chemicals back in your body, and your mind to a place where it can process and learn from the experience. So this maybe is the answer to love - finding your own unique and balanced love triangle. Finding your own happy threesome of chocolate, exercise, a good friend, book, or an online learning course, home improvement project, a yomp in the countryside with the family, getting out in the garden or park, whatever makes your heart sing.
Love is ... what you create
Lastly, love isn't found, it's created. It takes courage, commitment, balance, insight and effort for any relationship, or for the feeling that you really do love your life. Knowing and loving where your life is going, your path, how you are creating the unfolding story of your love affair with your life is not a random event - it's a continued, considered habit.
But back to the threesome ... the power of three is mythical and magical, from Japanese Haiku poems to the latin phrase onme trium perfectum. Or 'everything that comes in threes is perfect'. Maybe a threesome that everyone would be wise to say yes to, in the case of love, is creating your own special love triangle. Creating a life you love, for now, and for the future.
So to end, a love threesome in the form of a Haiku, for Valentine's Day.
Living the good life:
Attitude, gratitude, love -
Living in the 'now'.
Thanks also to @TheBuoysAggie for their caffeinated input on Love is... and to Tina Turner
Ella is a life coach, qualified in NLP and CBT using an integrated positive pyschological approach to coaching. www.lifecoachingwithella.com 07597157194