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Can Profound Love Be Routine?

Happiness cannot be found while seeking novelty alone.

"You can't be happy while your heart's on the roam / You can't be happy until you bring it home." –The Brothers Four

"The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine." –Mike Murdock

It is easy to be excited by novel events, which opens up new horizons and experiences for us. Indeed, the typical cause of emotions is a perceived significant change in our situation. However, our life mainly consists of routine activities that we have done many times. Similarly, although loving relationships often involve new experiences, most of the time lovers engage in routine activities. Long-term happiness and loving relationships depend on our ability to enjoy routine activities. How can we do this?

The key element in answering this question is, I believe, Aristotle's distinction between extrinsically and intrinsically valuable activities (see here). An extrinsically valuable activity is a means to an external goal; its value lies in achieving that goal. Examples of such activities are building a house, paying bills, cleaning the house, and attending job interviews. We do not value these activities in themselves-in fact, we may even resent performing them, as they are painful and costly. We still engage in such activities when the external goal is perceived to be beneficial. In an intrinsically valuable activity, our interest is focused upon the activity itself, not its results. Although such an activity entails results, it is not performed in order to achieve them. Accordingly, we do not try to finish this activity as quickly as possible. Listening to music is an example of an intrinsically valuable activity: we listen to music because we value doing so and not because of a certain external goal. Most human activities have both intrinsic and extrinsic value.

An essential aspect of happiness is the presence of intrinsically valuable activities in one's life. An essential aspect of profound love is the presence of intrinsically valuable activities involving the two lovers. In a loving relationship, it is not necessarily the nature of the activity that renders its activity intrinsically valuable, but the fact that it is performed by the two lovers together. In light of the great significance that intrinsically valuable activities have in a meaningful and satisfied life, the value of routine and novel activities in our life should be determined, among other things, by their intrinsic value.

An intrinsically valuable activity is an ongoing activity that does not seek to achieve an external goal: it is a never-ending process. Thus, if a painter considers painting as essential to her life—as a part of her individual identity—she cannot "finish" painting. She can merely stop painting from time to time, or can finish painting a particular picture. Similarly, if we consider (as does Aristotle) that intellectual thinking or moral behavior is essential to our human identity, we cannot say that at a certain point in our life we "finish" these activities; we can say that, from time to time, we stop performing them. These activities are profound in the sense that they are essential to what we characterize as a flourishing human life.

Novelty is a feature that is external to the intrinsic nature of the given activity; it lacks the ongoing, never-ending nature of intrinsically valuable activities. The change that gives rise to the sense of novelty cannot persist a very long time; after a while, the system construes the change as a normal and stable situation. Accordingly, novelty cannot be the sole or even the main factor in achieving a profoundly satisfied life. Something else must be added.

A routine activity can be characterized as the habitual performance of an established procedure. This in itself does not prevent it from being an intrinsically valuable activity. On the contrary, the ongoing and never-ending nature of activities that have intrinsic value is compatible with routine activities. But not all routine activities are intrinsically valuable.

In characterizing an intrinsically valuable activity, two main criteria may be used: (a) the agent's attitude is that of considering the activity to be valuable for its own sake; (b) the activity involves optimal functioning using and developing the agents' essential capacities and attitudes in a systematic manner over a sustained period of time. The first criterion is subjective and the second criterion is more objective. A profound intrinsically valuable activity is one that fulfills both criteria. A superficial, but more prevalent, intrinsically valuable activity is one that fulfills the subjective criterion only. An activity that merely fulfills the objective criterion is not an intrinsically valuable activity at all.

A distinction can be drawn between superficial pleasure and profound satisfaction. Superficial pleasure is an immediately rewarding, relatively short-lived experience requiring few or no profound human capacities. Profound satisfaction involves optimal functioning, using and developing the agent's essential capacities and attitudes. Part of profound satisfaction is the ability to overcome problems and make some progress. The optimal functioning of human beings differs from the minimal functioning of animals, which involves mere contentment or relaxation.

Intrinsically valuable activities characterized by merely the subjective criterion are typically pleasant. When we consider the activity to be valuable for its own sake, we can perform it in a pleasant enjoyable manner. Often the only value of such activities is simply that they are pleasant. Watching television typically has no other benefits except for the pleasure associated with it. However, intrinsically valuable activities are not necessarily pleasant. Thus, writing and painting are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur-some writers and artists experience a lot of agony in the process of creating their work. In such cases, the value of the activity does not stem from its pleasant process but from its profoundness-it utilizes the agent's most distinctive human capacities.

It seems then that the fact that an activity is novel or is pleasant-both of these are characteristic of change-is not sufficient for it to be an intrinsically valuable activity; hence such activities are no guarantee of either long-term happiness or long-term profound love. You can be engaged in the same activity yet find it continually interesting because of the nature of the activity and your attitude toward it. Similarly, you can keep going to dinner or a movie with your beloved and still find it interesting and pleasant because of the very fact that you are together. Something does not have to be completely novel in order to remain interesting and valuable. This is true both in terms of having the same occupation and having the same partner.

In this regard, Gaver and Mandler in their study on music preferences suggest that listening repeatedly to a certain genre of music can increase one's liking for that genre. We tend to like music that is typical of its kind. However, with increased exposure, we find simple music less enjoyable while a complex piece becomes more pleasing. As in the case of music, in relationships the complexity of the object is an important factor in determining whether the love will be more or less intense as a result of greater familiarity: a simple psychological object becomes less interesting after longer exposure. As profound intrinsically valuable activities are complex in their nature because they involve the activation of a variety of our capacities, they can hold our interest for a long time. Similarly, people who consider eating and making love to be intrinsically valuable activities, each having its own value, will find that repeated exposure to the experience in no way reduces their sense of its complexity and their consequent interest in it. Such repeated experiences are not regarded as boring or routine actions, but rather as deeper and more complex encounters with an object of fascination.

To sum up, it is easy to be excited by the novel, as the excitement stems more from the very fact of novelty and not from the intrinsic value of the given activity. If we can enjoy the routine, it means that the activity in question is of great value in itself and not merely because it is novel. Intrinsically valuable activities are an essential factor in maintaining romantic love. Profound love can be routine and still enjoyable, but not all routine activities constitute profound love.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, although there are many new people who may excite you much more than I do, you cannot be happy while your heart is seeking novelty all the time. And yes, tell me that you love me as often as you like; even if it might become routine, it is the sweetest music to my ears.'"