When I was younger, I undervalued small doses of everyday love. I wanted titanic-sized love that knocked my socks off and made me say, "WOW!"
I searched high and low for romantic partners to make me feel complete. I traveled to the Himalayas in pursuit of spiritually-transcendent love that would help me feel closer to God.
That said, I've always had a soft spot for sappy love songs from the '70s and '80s. But, in the naïveté of my youth, I'd picture myself as the protagonist in songs like "Take My Breath Away," "Faithfully," and "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You."
Shakespearean soliloquies that seem cloying to me now (e.g., "What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and [you] are the sun.") summed up what I thought any love that really mattered was all about throughout my adolescence.
I'm older now. I'm also happily single, the father of a 12-year-old, and less of a hopeless romantic. My expectations of love have evolved. These days, I value every sliver of loving-kindness tossed in my direction as I go through my daily routine.
Giving and receiving small doses or "morsels of love" in the checkout line at the supermarket matter more to me than the "Endless Love" I craved as an adolescent. Even though I'm a loner and perfectly content being alone, I, like most people, still need to experience an iota of everyday love to feel more joyful and less cynical.
My anecdotal observation that feeling small amounts of love in everyday life boosts psychological well-being is corroborated by a recent study (Oravecz et al., 2019). These findings appear in the January 2020 issue of Personality and Individual Differences.
The latest research on a link between everyday "felt love "and psychological well-being was conducted by a multidisciplinary team led by Zita Oravecz and Timothy Brick of Penn State University's Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS). As the authors explain, "Everyday life presents many experiences that can make people feel connected to another and leave them feeling loved."
Using state-of-the-art analytic methods, Oravecz and colleagues conducted two separate studies. One found that experiencing small doses of love throughout the day increased feelings of optimism and purpose. The second showed that higher "felt love" baseline scores were correlated with higher extraversion personality scores. On the flip side, participants who scored higher on the Big Five trait of neuroticism tended to self-report lower levels of "felt love" in everyday life.
Of note: The researchers are quick to point out that "because the studies have only shown a correlation between felt love and well-being, more research would be needed to establish a causal relationship."
How were these studies conducted? The ICDS researchers used smartphones to collect real-time data on when and where each study participant felt loved at randomly sampled times throughout his or her daily life. All of the research findings were filtered through nuanced statistical tools to cut through noisy data.
"We took a very broad approach when we looked at love," Oravecz, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, said in a release. "Everyday felt love is conceptually much broader than romantic love. It's those micro-moments in your life when you experience resonance with someone. For example, if you're talking to a neighbor and they express concern for your well-being, then you might resonate with that and experience it as a feeling of love, and that might improve your well-being."
Interestingly, Oravecz and her team found that nudging study participants to be more mindful of everyday "felt love," and encouraging people to recognize random moments of warm-hearted connection, actually increased their sense of being loved.
"It's something that we've seen in the literature on mindfulness, when people are reminded to focus attention on positive things, their overall awareness of those positive things begins to rise," Oravecz said. "Similarly, just by paying attention to those everyday moments of felt love, we may also increase our awareness of the overall positive aspects of love in our daily lives. This effect replicates in both studies, implying that raising awareness of felt love in day-to-day life may itself be an intervention that raises levels of felt love over a longer period of time."
"It's often very difficult to measure psychological quantities because we don't always have a great idea about what's going on in our own heads," Timothy Brick said in a release.
Oravecz added, "But with the right statistical methods, we can start to get at questions about difficult constructs like love or compassion, and hopefully build interventions to promote them."
The researchers are optimistic that these findings could eventually lead to fine-tuned interventions specifically designed to boost everyday "felt love" and psychological well-being in tandem.
Nobody can force another person to dole out loving-kindness on demand. But we can create micro-moments of "felt love" that ricochet around by infusing random situations with some unexpected generosity, kind-heartedness, or "Warm Fuzzies." (Steiner, 1969) After learning about this study a few days ago, I decided to "control my controllables" by making a conscious effort to increase the "felt love" experienced by the people I cross paths with on a daily basis.
For example, on most days, I visit a Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks drive-thru window. Before I started using on-the-go apps, I'd always leave the person who handed me my morning coffee and the change from a $5 bill at least a dollar tip. Unfortunately, because I hardly use cash anymore, I rarely have dollar bills or spare change floating around. Recently I noticed that I was always apologizing for not leaving a tip and got tired of hearing myself make excuses: "I'd leave you a tip, but I don't have any cash. Sorry. Have a great day!"
So, a few days ago, I went to the bank and got a $100 bundle of singles that I stashed in my glove compartment. I know: Money can't buy you love. Nevertheless, it's been fun and heartwarming to hand the drive-thru person a couple of bucks along with an apology-free "thank you." This small gesture makes me feel good and seems to make the person on the receiving end experience a small dose of everyday love and a micro-moment of loving-kindness, too.
Zita Oravecz, Jessica Dirsmith, Saeideh Heshmati, Joachim Vandekerckhove, Timothy R. Brick. "Psychological Well-Being and Personality Traits Are Associated with Experiencing Love in Everyday Life." Personality and Individual Differences (First published online: October 31, 2019) DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2019.109620