A cherished topic of philosophers, poets, and writers for centuries, love is often considered to be an unexplainable force that makes the heart pound and the palms sweat. And yet, despite its mysteriousness, it is also an undeniably important biological reaction.
While there are many definitions of love, most agree that it is a feeling of strong affection and protectiveness for another person, often including feelings of lust and sexual attraction. It may also include a sense of loyalty and trust for friends, family members, and other close relationships. Love can be expressed in different ways, including platonic and familial love, romantic love, and even a feeling of universal love for all humans. It can also be used to describe a love for non-human animals, for principles or beliefs, and for one’s own self.
For those in the throes of romantic love, an arousal triggered by seeing their beloved causes certain brain regions to light up like a city skyline at night. The ventral tegmental area floods with dopamine, and the brain’s reward circuit kicks into overdrive. The hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, and the nucleus accumbens become active, producing a rush of chemicals that feel good. This explains why we sometimes say that we are “in the mood for love.”
As love matures, however, the euphoria can give way to more stable emotions such as attachment and empathy. The brain’s reward system continues to be activated by this new kind of love, but the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine begin to drop. As a result, the oxytocin hormone takes over, helping us to bond with our loved ones and feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Companionate love also has a major impact on the longevity of a relationship. It typically develops slowly, over time, as people learn to trust each other and depend on each other for help and support in their everyday lives. As a result, it is more resistant to infidelity and conflict than passionate love. Interestingly, companionate love is less likely to be disrupted by the death of a partner or other life events that might cause a person to feel depressed or anxious.
Happiness, meanwhile, is an elusive goal that can be difficult to define. It’s not about being positive all the time or laughing out loud, but rather about knowing who you are and proactively making decisions that align with your values. It also means accepting that not everything in life is going to go your way, and that’s okay.
A wonderful narrative voice and spectacular pictures give this story the feel of a modern classic. It’s a tender, funny tale celebrating all kinds of love from award-winning author-illustrator duo Mac Barnett and Carson Ellis.