Healthy Living: What is love?

Love doesn’t need a day but we, in the western world, have assigned it one: Valentine’s Day.

Is Valentine’s Day a manifestation of love? Probably not. More likely it’s a byproduct of graphs, charts and demographic studies by faceless corporations that employ marketing firms, with obscene budgets, that are very good at their jobs.

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Starting with a process of elimination, Valentine’s Day is not love.

Aside from being the subject of countless songs in all music genres, what is love?

We can’t find something if we don’t know what we’re looking for. That is a simple enough concept (and a U2 song, I believe).

So, what is love?

Neurology has found love is neuropathic chemical activity in different sections of our brain. Thinking about a beloved person triggers activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which opens floodgates of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain’s reward centres: caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens. At the level of neurons in the brain, the activity is an electrochemical process. That’s why circuits are in our brain and our home’s wall outlets.

So, love is, in a scientific way, electricity.

Along with dopamine, people in love have more of the stress hormone norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Plus, activity is the brain’s threat-response centre, the amygdala, is slowed down.

All this is the exact brain activity that occurs when an addict uses heroin, alcohol or partakes in dangerously obsessive sex. The same neurochemical activity which occurs when in love also happens when abusing life-threatening substances or behaviour.

So, in that way, addiction might be a search for love.

New York Times best-selling author Johann Hari eloquently argues that addiction is a search for love in his thought-provoking Ted Talk called “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.” He announces the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but, instead, is human connection. Connection, at some point, involves love or a loving act.

So, then, love is a connection.

A great act of love I will never forget witnessing took the form of sticky notes strategically placed around a large suburban house. When my mom knew her cancer would soon take her life, she proceeded to put sticky notes on washing machines, dishwashers, all the places my dad might need instructions and continue his life healthily. As was the norm in that generation, my mother did all the domestic chores as well as having a career.

In life, my mother had the most precise, beautiful penmanship. But with her body fading and weakened from colon cancer and chemotherapy, the cursive on the sticky notes was sloppy and almost child-like.

Those yellow sticky notes with curled edges were love.

So love is selfless but simple instructions?

Buddhists say everything is impermanent and eventually goes away, even love. So, trying to hold on to anything will cause suffering.

Normally, I don’t like suggesting a religion that has survived 2,500 years with more than 500 million followers is wrong, but the consequences of some small acts of love, like the sticky notes, have effects which reverberate through time forever and change the physical world.

Love is an selfless action, even a seemingly small action, that changes everything, in a positive, forever.

Robert Skender is a Powell River freelance writer and health commentator.

Copyright © Powell River Peak


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