By Dana George-Berberich
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” — Nelson Mandela
Love is more than a rush of endorphins to the brain, more than a sappy song or tear-stained pillow. Love is a necessity – like air or water. Babies deprived of love fail to grow, to develop normally. Lives devoid of love wither and dry up.
The great news is we are all capable of loving. Even the most tired, used-up, hurt human being can feel a flicker that turns into a fire of warm emotion. It may be directed at a child, partner, friend, or even a pet. The human ability to feel love can be expressed in a multitude of ways and each one of them has healing properties.
Love boosts those “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain that control mood and an overall sense of well-being. Anyone who has ever felt love – in any of its manifestations – can attest to seeing life through different lenses. Love simply changes the human outlook.
As it turns out, love also alters the ability to tolerate pain. Doctors have long shared anecdotal experiences of patients whose condition improved upon the arrival of a loved one to their hospital room. Still, a small study from researchers at Stanford University illustrates the power of love in a fascinating way. First, they scanned the brains of 15 college students who claimed to be “deeply in love.” Eight women and seven men were fitted with brain scanners, designed to track the body’s response to pain. A heated probe was placed on the palm of each participant’s hand. Three different scenarios were set up. First, they were asked to look a photograph of an acquaintance, then to look at a picture of the person they were in love with, and finally, each participant was given a word task designed to distract them from pain. In this particular case, they were each asked to name sports that don’t use a ball. When researchers compared the pain response of participants during each activity they found that moderate pain was reduced by about 40 percent and severe pain by 10 to 15 percent as they looked at a picture of their loved one. The simple acting of seeing the face of someone they loved actually reduced their level of pain.
That’s not even the whole story. Giving and receiving love can lower blood pressure, increase dopamine levels, and even boost the immune system. MRI scans have shown that when we love, the frontal cortex of our brain shuts down. Because this is the area responsible for judgment, this means that we’re less likely to be critical of the people we love – a positive trait no matter how you look at it.
Marianne Williamson once said, “As we begin to understand more deeply why love is such a necessary element in the healing of the world, a shift will occur in how we live our lives within and without.”
It all begins with allowing yourself to love – even a little bit.