What’s love got to do with it?

In her 1984 hit song, Tina Turner asks, “What’s love got to do with it?” suggesting it’s nothing but a “second-hand emotion.”

Apologies to Tina, but Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Carolina and author of the new book Love 2.0, disagrees: Love is not a second-hand emotion, but an essential ingredient to our overall happiness and something to pay attention to on Valentine’s Day and beyond.

Fredrickson and her team study what happens in our bodies when we respond to different types of emotions. Her latest work (highlighted below in the graphic, a Q and A and a video below) suggests that some things we think we know about love are wrong. Instead of being constant, unconditional and limited to our close friends and family, love is built on “micro-moments,” short, powerful connections we can have with all sorts of other people.

The more of these micro-moments we have, the better our relationships will be and the healthier we’ll be overall.

Letting our guard down and opening up to the micro-moments of connection around us each day will ultimately make us happier and more content. It makes marriages and other romantic relationships better and improves bonds with friends, colleagues and even strangers. Sorry, Tina: when it comes to happiness, love has everything to do with it.

What’s different about this micro-moment definition of love?

Thinking of love exclusively in terms of romance can limit our opportunities for health, growth and well-being. While romantic love may be the most intense form these micro-moments can take, evidence suggests that milder, everyday micro-moments can accumulate to make a bigger difference in overall health and quality of life.

Where do these micro-moments come from?

Micro-moments depend on feelings of safety or the way our senses respond when we encounter another person. A smile, a good conversation and sharing a laugh are all micro-moment material. Eye contact is big key. Texts and e-mails can lead to good feelings, but they don’t nourish us in the same way.

What about marriage and long-term relationships?

Don’t take a loving long-term relationship or marriage for granted. That steady force of a good relationship is a product of many micro-moments of connection couples have shared over the years. Creating opportunities for new micro-moments can fight the complacency that damages or destroys long-term relationships.

And single folks?

Because micro-moments of love are so nourishing and don’t depend on having a romantic partner, they can frequently give everyone, singles and couples, happiness and fulfillment.

Is a powerful micro-moment with a co-worker or friend considered cheating?

Absolutely not. That would be like saying enjoying someone else’s company, building rapport or being kind is “cheating” or somehow being unfaithful.

The Science

Many of love’s benefits spring from the vagus nerve, a key conduit that connects our brains to our hearts. Fredrickson and her team found that when people learn ways to create more micro-moments of love in their daily lives, they show lasting improvements in the tone of the vagus nerve. Like having good muscle tone, higher vagal tone is good for health and overall functioning.

Watch the video below, Fredrickson explains Love. 2.0.

 Published February 8, 2013.