By Lisa Finkelstein, Ph.D., guest contributor
Hugh Grant's character in the movie “Love Actually” may have been on to something when he observed that love, actually, is all around us — and if we broaden our definition of love to Barbara Frederickson's concept of “Love 2.0” in her book of that name, he may have been even more accurate than we thought. Everywhere might even include professional conferences.
Not long ago, I was invited to present an IGNITE talk (for those of you unfamiliar with the IGNITE concept, check it out here: igniteshow.com) at the annual meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. The theme for all of the talks was “connections.” How we presenters interpreted that theme was up to us.
Having recently read Frederickson's book with my "pleasure reading" hat on, I decided to revisit it with my academic eye to see if it could help me take a fresh look at connections, especially the connections we make at conferences. As it turned out, I found more than a little inspiration from this book. This blog entry reflects what I learned and presented in my IGNITE talk.
Our typical notion of love is one that we use to describe romantic partners, close family ties, or even those friendships that are more like family. This type of love focuses on strong bonds, trust, and support. Hopefully it deepens over time and is enduring. It’s also likely limited to a short list of people in our lives.
And although those loved ones drive us bananas sometimes, they may actually be doing us a lot of good. Accumulating research provides evidence for an increase in longevity for those of us with more and complex social ties.
Indeed, we all know that doing healthy things such as getting a flu shot, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly will extend out lifespans. But many of us aren’t aware that evidence suggests that developing a web of social ties might be just as or more important for extending our lives as these other healthy behaviors (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010).
So what if you aren't lucky enough to have a lot of close friends, a romantic partner, or a semi-functional family? If you are willing to stretch your definition of love, or as Frederickson suggests, upgrade it to Love 2.0, you may be in luck. Because it turns out that this sort of love is abundant and available to all of us on a daily basis.
Love 2.0 is defined by Frederickson as "a micro-moment of shared positive resonance." It is comprised of three components: (a) a shared positive emotion among two or more people, (b) a synchronizing of their biochemistry and behavior, and (c) an awareness of signs of mutual care – even if just for a brief moment.
When we make an upgrade to Love 2.0, we go from our cultural definition of love to our body’s understanding of love. And, as it turns out, our bodies can’t really tell the difference between these micro-moments of positivity that we share with our soul mates and those we share with some guy on the elevator. When we stack up these moments (or, in other words, when we “become lovers”), we open ourselves up to many gifts cognitively, emotionally, and physiologically.
Cognitively, Frederickson describes brain-imaging research that shows heightened activity in the brain regions indicating increased perceptual breadth when we are experiencing positive emotions that mirror those achieved in moments of Love 2.0 (Schmitz, De Rosa, & Anderson, 2009). In other words, we may notice more going on around us in our environment. Additionally, these moments of Love 2.0 can breed wisdom, in part from having more encounters with others whose perspectives we can bring to the table when needed.
Emotionally, in addition to the pure good feeling that Love 2.0 produces, the new perspectives gained can help us build resilience to handle life’s inevitable stressors (Algoe & Frederickson, 2011).
Physiologically, Frederickson explains that these encounters boost oxytocin (a hormone that is associated with bonding and attachment) and may help us strengthen vagal tone (which helps relax our heart rate); these are indicators of improved physical health.
Seems like all around, “lovers” win.
But what does this have to do with networking at conferences?
Well, although these micro-moments of shared positive connections have the potential to happen any time we encounter another person, they are indeed more likely to occur when we are in an environment where positivity and excitement is readily sparked among those present, and when we feel a sense of belonging and shared identity with those around us. For many professionals, the annual conference is where we feel really excited, alive, and as if we have “found our people.”
We have been taught to network at conferences in order to promote ourselves and our work. We discover that we can meet new collaborators and get helpful critique of the work we present.
Despite these potential benefits, not all of us enjoy networking, and some people downright dread it. Perhaps it seems fake; perhaps it drains your energy. But what if we thought of these conferences as a fertile ground for experiencing these brief moments of positive connection?
If we are truly open and willing to engage fully in an exchange – by looking someone in the eye, giving a true smile, really leaning in and listening to what they are saying – we could not only gain the traditional benefits of networking but also gain some real health benefits as well.
I find conferences are chock-full of opportunities for these moments – poster sessions, walks to symposia, coffee breaks, cocktail hours, etc. But, a note of warning: If you walk around with your eyes glued to your smartphone, this is all very unlikely to happen.
So remember what Barbara (and Hugh) said, and pick up your head.
Lisa Finkelstein is a professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University and a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She is in the Social – Industrial/Organizational Area at NIU and teaches courses in social psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, training and development, and individual assessment in organizations. Her research interests include aging and work, mentoring relationships, stigma in the workplace, and humor at work.
Algoe, S. B., & Frederickson, B. L. (2011). Emotional fitness and the movement of affective science from lab to field. American Psychologist, 66, 35-42.
Frederickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS medicine, 7, e1000216.