We often harp on the focal, key importance of romantic love, saying that it is the beacon that guides our relationships. However, is romantic love the only facet that the emotion of love can result in? Romantic love, contrary to the way we frame it as ‘eternal and timeless’ actually originated as a concrete concept in the era of Romanticism, where poets and novelists wanted to capture the beauty and sensual character of nature and human love.
The Greeks conceptualized love as an emotion that has many facets that are rooted in experience.These reveal much about how human nature can express emotions in varied ways, in order to react to certain situations and create their own evaluations.
The Greek Conceptions of Love
‘Eros’ is the closest counterpart to our conception of romannce. According to Greek mythology, one is induced into this state by one of Cupid’s arrows. The second is Philia, which characterizes the goodwill shown between two friends that trust one another. Going one step further, we have Storge, which represents the biological bond within a family environment. Love can be universal too, and this notion is expressed through Agape, which essentially counts for the kindness we may show towards strangers, from a desire to help others.
This emotion, according to the Greeks, is also said to have a playful element known as Ludus, which characterizes flirtation or a teasing kind of love, that is often shown between new lovers. As love matures, the desire for sensual placation subsides, and relationships begin to be built on the notion of mutual trust and an almost telepathic tendency to communicate. This is characterized by what the Greeks call Pragma, which is also present in diplomatic relationships, where political figures work together in the best interest of humanity. As we must love others, we must also learn to love ourselves, and this is known as Philautia, or self-love. We need to be careful with he amount of positive regard we show to ourselves, lest we get too proud or narcissistic.
Now that we’ve understood how this emotion is rooted in so many different realms of our lived experience, we can delve deeper, to find out its psychological foundation. Emotions trigger certain chemical activity within the brain. Happiness is an emotion that is quite interlinked with love, and it is marked by the release of three chemicals within the body. These are serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.
The Biochemistry of Love
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that enables us to add agency to our lives, and give action to our goals. It allows us to cut down on procrastinating and avoiding the task at hand, and motivates us to finish tasks to their completion. If we cut down our goals and chop them into tiny ‘sub-goals’, we can feel a rush of dopamine every time we reach a step closer to the finish line. The achievement of goals and the adoption of agency can lead to a feeling of importance or feeling appreciated. This releases a neurotransmitter known as serotonin, that makes us feel valued. This is also a feeling that is experienced when we help others. Their gratitude makes us feel good about ourselves. A strong familial bond or friendship triggers the release of oxytocin, which is also associated with sensuality, the parent-child bond, and even a simple hug! Endorphins, of which there are more than 20 kinds in the body, are released during extreme conditions like during exercise, or in pain, and these make us feel a certain euphoria, that can quell pain.
Love is thus, rooted in multiple experiences in the outside world. Within our bodies, the process is far more simple, as emotions trigger biological feedback from the body. By understanding our own emotions, we may be able to prepare ourselves to become individuals that can experience happiness and love in a way that spurs our productivity and keeps us motivated.