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It makes sense that love, happiness, and good health are all related. In fact, the science behind love makes an even stronger case regarding the important effect love has on our health. In one report, studies found that even when all of our basic needs are being met, humans fail to flourish without loving relationships. (1)
Strong, loving relationships and social bonds make up some of the most fundamental building blocks of evolution. Without love and social interactions, humans might not exist today in the way that we now do. Even the most primitive bacteria have social interactions that support the whole (the collective community) in becoming stronger than the sum of its parts (the individual cells). (1)
One of the common denominators of centenarians (people who live over 100) is that they all seem to have very strong social bonds with family and friends. Fundamentally as humans, we seek sociality to feel safe and accepted by others. Once the feeling of love, acceptance or safety is established, a relaxation response follows. (2)
Seeking Love for Survival
As young children, we are hard-wired to seek the love and acceptance of our parents or caregivers, which provides a sense of safety that is oriented around survival. This desire to be loved and approved of is genetically coded into our survival nervous system. In fact, studies suggest that numerous physiological functions are dependent on love. (1,2) This feeling of safety from love and acceptance creates the same chemistry of reward in our bodies that drives aspects of hunger, digestion, growth, development and reproduction. (3)
Research has also shown that love has an important stress-reducing and health-promoting potential, since it holds the ability to facilitate beneficial motivation and behavior that promotes our survival. (4) Further, it has been found that joyful activities such as love may activate areas in the brain responsible for emotion, attention, motivation and memory, and influence the autonomic nervous system, which governs our response to stress. (5) Science has shown that stress and painful experiences are related to increased risk of illness, while sociality in the form of love, faith, hope and laughter are known to soothe experiences of stress and pain. (3)
Love often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of joy, interest, and contentment, and science has shown many intriguing health benefits of these positive emotions as well. A positive psychological state is associated with enhanced health and well-being, including favorable effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. (6) Joy has been associated with lower morbidity and stress rates in a study of adults aged 65-86 years (7), and research shows that positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, and love build upon each other for optimizing health and well-being. (8)
While being social is a learned form of creating a sense of safety and belonging, touch is considered an inborn or innate form of love, security and well-being. (3) Giving loving and caring touch, holding someone in need, and massage have all been shown to stimulate the natural production of oxytocin in our bodies. Oxytocin is a hormone associated with love, bonding, giving, and caring for others. Basically, the more you love, the more oxytocin you produce and the more you can love. (9)
Could Oxytocin Be The Healing Power of Love?
Studies suggest that the production of oxytocin is linked to numerous health benefits, including pleasure, happiness, stable mood, and a better ability to handle stress. Oxytocin is also associated with increased social interaction, which is linked to longevity and an anti-stress response in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis), which is the primary pathway connecting the gut microbiome to the brain. This pathway is linked to the health of almost every physiological function in the body. (10)
From Needing Love to Being Love
Thus, research suggests that humans are hard-wired to need love and approval to feel safe. This safety drives sociality and even our evolution. (1-3, 9) Further, studies have shown that oxytocin, the love hormone, is naturally produced without any promise of the reward of being loved, being approved of, being accepted or even being safe. (10)
From an Ayurvedic perspective, there is a shift that takes place from childhood, when one needs love to feel safe, in order to survive to adulthood where one is completely contented by giving, loving and caring.
Dopamine, known as the ‘reward hormone,’ is triggered and released in our bodies when we receive acceptance and the approval of others. The pleasure from this reward hormone keeps us wanting another reward.
Oxytocin, on the other hand, is released when one gives love to another with no promise of a reward or any expectation to receive anything in return. (10) This shift from needing love to being love is the entire premise of the Vedic sciences, which include yoga and Ayurveda.
Establish Being, Perform Action, and Change Your Life
Perhaps the most direct way to make this shift from needing love to being love is through meditation. Meditation provides the silence one needs to become more self-aware. With a heightened state of self-awareness, it becomes easy to see where in your life you are engaged in activities and behavior dedicated to needing love rather than being love.
While meditation will provide the awareness, the only way to change these old protective patterns is to take action. Actions (karma) based on your true nature to be the love rather than need it is the way we lay down new neurological pavement (pathways) in the brain to be free of the need for approval. Performing random acts of kindness is one of the first steps. Try taking a chance and write a note or send a text saying something like, “Hi! Just wishing you a great day. Lots of love!”
The Vedic prescription for human happiness, “Yogastha Kuru Karmani,” means to establish being and then perform action. (12) Thus, from an Ayurvedic standpoint, meditation alone is not the recipe for happiness. Meditation is an important tool, but without engaging in a transformational action-step based on a heightened state of awareness, it’s literally only half of the instruction towards attaining happiness.
‘Ayur’ means life and ‘Veda’ means truth; so ‘Ayurveda’ translates as the “truth of life.” Meditation, yoga, and other Ayurvedic techniques all establish being, presence, and silence, but the second half of this Vedic prescription for happiness requires action. The action must be based on Veda or truth. OUR TRUTH IS LOVE. Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to be loved by others, now is the time to embody love, and be love. This is the truth of our lives: to be love, and to let our love shine.