What do you think produces the highest level of happiness? Many Americans believe the answer involves winning the Powerball, but neither wealth nor possessions take people to the top tier of happiness. When researchers compared the happiest people on Earth to everyone else, they found only one factor that differentiated between the two groups: happy people have a wide variety of satisfying relationships.
Valentine’s Day presents a perfect opportunity to engage with our loved ones in ways that will make us extraordinarily happy. We’re most fulfilled when we’re involved in relationships with people we care about the most. And we feel the deepest despair when we cannot create a loving connection.
Our romantic relationships provide the most powerful positive impact in our life. Although passionate love is widely discussed, it is deeply misunderstood. Many people talk about love as if it’s a feeling that should, once they’ve fallen into it, always be present in their relationship with their partner. But that’s not how any other positive emotion works – they’re aroused and they dissipate.
Feelings are triggered by certain conditions. Our emotional reactions to people are based on prior experiences, present input, and future expectations. We instantly assess how an individual compares to people we’ve encountered previously, what emotional signals the person is sending in the moment, and whether we anticipate a positive response in the future. We have very specific reasons for feeling the way we do, even if we aren’t always aware of them.
Being in love is no different. We experience love under certain conditions, a small number of which we’re aware and a great deal of which are subconscious. Because we don’t tend to analyze our good feelings, we don’t usually know why we love someone – we just do. We’re taught to follow our heart, not our head. For this reason, we labor under the misconception that love is a mystical experience that cannot be explained. It’s seems to us that it’s either magically in our heart or it isn’t.
People experience passionate intensity during the initial phase of falling in love. But passion in and of itself is insufficient to sustain our loving feelings toward someone. Problems occur in our life – both inside and outside of a relationship – which automatically prompt negative reactions that alter our emotional state.
Love is a feeling that operates like all of our other emotions. It comes and goes, gets stronger and weaker, and runs hot and cold depending on the circumstances that are occurring in our life. Love, therefore, needs to be thought of as situational.
But because we’re largely unaware of the conditions that are present when we fall in love with someone, we often have a difficult time recreating the circumstances that will rekindle our loving feelings when they have faded. Frequently we don’t even try to recall the factors that brought about the loving feelings in the first place. We’re taught to analyze problem situations to determine their cause. So we delve into all of the reasons why our partner may be rejecting, abandoning, or neglecting us.
When we worry about why our loving feelings have diminished, our negative emotions make it difficult to recall how to rekindle the passion. For example, if we begin to dwell on the fact that our partner has turned us down for sex recently, our brains start searching for possible reasons why he or she may be unhappy with us. We can whip ourselves into a fever pitch by stewing on our negative thoughts, generating hostility, resentment, and anxiety in the absence of any real information about what’s actually going on.
When we become reactive to our negative ruminations, we become immobilized by the fearful thoughts that are running rampant in our mind. Then when the other person says or does the slightest thing to aggravate us, we respond disproportionately to the situation – frequently creating the very rejection were we so afraid of in the first place.
The alternative is to become proactive, which involves gathering information about what’s going on with our partner. When we learn, for instance, that our partner’s not responding to us because they’re exhausted after working and contending with the kids, we can have a constructive conversation focused on finding a solution. Rather than engaging in a critical analysis of the problem, focus on recreating the conditions that previously led to intimacy.
This Valentine’s Day talk to your partner about what activities stirred passion in the first place. Then follow that path to pleasure.