Barbara Fredrickson, one of our favorite psychologists and author of Love 2.0, provocatively asks “What if everything we know about love is wrong?”
We like featuring her work in February because Valentine’s Day triggers so many preconceived expectations about love. These are usually associated with romantic love, with a connection that we believe can only be fulfilled by a special someone, or with the love we feel toward our family members and friends. Fredrickson suggests that we break away from these notions and think of love more as kindness that opens our hearts and feeds our souls.
Fredrickson has a useful take on the profound desire many of us experience for that deep sense of connection and fulfillment that romantic love seems to promise. She proposes that this longing reflects a physiological craving for a nutrient that our bodies need to survive. She is not just making an analogy, she is suggesting that love literally changes our biochemistry and the way our DNA is expressed.
However, Fredrickson suggests that love is not just necessarily the special bond that comes through a commitment to a partner or through kinship or loyalty to a group. Instead, she is talking the kind of love that can continuously feed our need for connection. It comes from sharing positivity with others, from people we know to total strangers. It comes from increasing moments of joy, amusement, curiosity, gratitude, and hope with others (click here for a useful handout on positivity and the science of positive emotions).
Sharing kindness can generate this kind of love, both in ourselves and others. Kindness can fulfill the longing that drives our desire for love both for the originator and the recipient of kindness. Even the simplest kindness-holding the door for someone, asking telemarketers and customer service workers how they are doing, giving room for a pushy driver to move into your lane-can have a lasting impact.
Some of our favorite acts of kindness, such as making cards for people, are meant to address loneliness, a feeling that doesn’t always get resolved by romantic love and, in fact, is sometimes made worse by romantic love. We think that postcards are particularly nice, because they are so visual. You might even encourage a postcard exchange with someone.
For example, when Rebecca’s mother, Lee, was very ill, she and Rebecca started a postcard exchange in which they each gave 4 words to the other and had to respond to those words on a postcard with little thumbnail sketches. You could also respond with a quote or a mini-poem. Her’s is the image above and here is one or Rebecca’s responses.
February is not only the month of love but also black history month so we end this month with a quote from one of the most loving people of all time, Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have decided to stick to love… Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
With Love, Rebecca and Gioia
Think about someone or some people that you think might appreciate some kind of contact, just a moment of acknowledgement. Send them a postcard with 4 words that they have to respond to on another postcard with a quote, a poem, or a little sketch.
If you want, you can send a whole set of stamped pre-addressed postcards in an envelope so they will have them accessible and just put them in their mailbox to get back to you. Tell them that when they send the postcard they have to list 4 other words that you would respond to. And so the exchange begins.