As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s easy to forget that love extends beyond intimate and physical boundaries. It is more than sex, hugs, holding hands, and the words “I love you.”
We can feel loved without having a partner, and without long-term commitments and exclusivity. Love, in fact, hides in the small shared moments of positivity each day.
It may be someone comforting you during a difficult time, a co-worker asking how you are feeling, or the warm smile of a stranger. It is there when your pet is excited to see you or when someone does a favor for you, like allowing you to go ahead in line.
Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist who studies positive emotions, recommends that we prize these easily overlooked moments. When we connect in positive ways, we resonate emotionally.
Not only do we feel warmer emotions, but evidence suggests we benefit physically. Frequent positive feelings are linked to fewer colds, less inflammation, and lower risk for developing heart disease.
When we are socially engaged, the part of our nervous system that helps us relax and conserve energy works more effectively. We are more likely to produce higher levels of oxytocin as well, a hormone important in the formation of loving bonds.
Two hearts can even beat as one. One study found that heart rhythms synchronized when two co-workers, feeling appreciation for each other, sat four feet away with their backs turned.
We can go looking for these loving micro-connections, but we can also work to create them.
You can bring love more fully into your life by writing down positive interactions at the end of each day. You could also note your role in the interaction, as this can help strengthen your sense of control over loving feelings. For example, did you say hello first? What words did you choose to make that person feel good? What kind of thoughts encouraged you to connect?
Listening at a deep level to what another person is saying can further boost feelings of affection and caring. To practice the art of deep listening, try to “reflect back” or summarize what the person said rather than offering an opinion. Taking turns doing this can build a shared sense of understanding.
Finally, it can help to join a group with a similar interest where you can be among like-minded people and bond over what you have in common.
No matter how you express it, loving others in small ways highlights the shared nature of happiness and well-being. It unites us in a common cause for creating a better world — at home, work, and school.
Scott Glassman, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, and associate director of the program in mental health counseling at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.