We’ve all heard the romanticized notion that when you find your perfect person, you live happily ever after. But if you think about it, that’s pretty unrealistic. In the real world, love can be complicated, frustrating and even painful. It takes work to nurture those early stirrings of attraction and make them last, and it can take time to weather the stressors that inevitably come up. But if you put in the effort, a loving relationship can offer plenty of rewards.
But just how do you know that what you’re feeling is love? Love can be a confusing emotion, and definitions of it vary widely. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” But many other definitions go much further. One from the American Heritage Dictionary describes it as “a mutual affection based on companionship, fondness, or admiration.” And the Oxford English Dictionary has this definition: “A feeling of deep attachment and devotion to another person that may include sexual desire and a sense of companionship.”
Some scientists have developed different theories about what love is, focusing on the biological causes of the phenomenon. For example, some experts believe that the feeling of love is a mammalian drive, similar to hunger or thirst, triggered by chemicals like oxytocin and neurotrophins. Others view love as a more social and psychological phenomenon, with it influenced by culture and the expectations of a given society.
Other researchers have focused on the ways that people express their feelings of love, and they’ve discovered some nuances in the language of love. They’ve found that there are at least three different types of love: companionate, eros and agape. Commitment is a key component of eros, while intimacy is important in companionate love and agape is often a major aspect of enduring adversity in relationships.
In the end, though, a healthy and happy love life is about more than just the big emotional expressions like swaying together to your favorite romance song or declaring your feelings on social media. Instead, a loving person nurtures a positive attitude, seeks out opportunities to be kind and acts selflessly. They also show up for the bad times as well as the good ones and provide a steady source of support to their partner.
It’s no wonder, then, that love has become such a cultural icon. Whether you define it as a feeling or an action, love has the power to change our lives and improve our wellbeing. But only if we treat it with the care it deserves. Waking up to a sunny day, seeing an old couple hold hands and having meaningful work are some of the happiest things that people reported in a recent study of what makes people tick. The most important sources of happiness, however, are their health and family, a positive outlook on life and spending time with those they love.