The Myth and Science of Love

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The month of February is regarded as the month of romance, the month for lovers, with the celebration of the St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th. A lot of cards, flowers, candies, and gifts are exchanged between lovers. The image of the heart and the winged Cupid and his bow and arrows firing at hearts is a common sight on bill boards, magazines and shopping malls. 

What is Love?

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The word “love” can have a variety of related but distinct meanings in different contexts and is said to be a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion and affection. Love is an emotion of strong affection. I use the word love here in the context of the strong emotional expression of sexual attraction, affection and personal attachment between the opposite sexes. Love here expresses feelings of romance.

Romantic Love is the most powerful sensation a human being can have. It involves the obsessive thinking about and craving for a particular person. Romance is where love begins, and it seems to have the most extreme effect on human behavior. Starting from puberty, most humans wish to experience the feeling of being in love, yet most people would have difficulty describing what exactly love is. images-7.jpegPeople live for love, sing for love, write poems for love, do funny unbelievable things in the name of being in love. People will even kill for love! We find quotes like, ‘You are the apple of my eyes’, ‘I can never live without you’,‘ My heart yearns for you alone’; ‘Love is blind’. You can remember dozens of these sayings. Perhaps you have used some yourself.

The Myth

Many images are used as symbols of love. images-12.jpegMost popularly and universally used is the Heart. It is believed that love resides in, and emanates from the heart. th-5.jpegOther symbols are, the pairing swans, the pigeons and the doves known as the love birds; the rose flower- a symbol of perfection; the harp – a symbol of love in lyric arts, poetry and music. In China, the maple leaf is an emblem of lovers! Chocolate is also a love symbol and is believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.

Legends:   There are many interesting legends around love. Popular legends are connected to St Valentine’s Day and Cupid.

St. Valentine’s Day which lovers celebrate on the 14th of February, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. Around 270 A.D. when the Roman Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men who he then enlisted into the army. Valentine, a priest, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. 

IMG_6209.JPGWhen Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be imprisoned and put to death. Valentine’s soft spot for young lovers earned him the admiration of lovers and young couples.

According to the legend, the imprisoned Valentine fell in love with a girl who frequently visited him during his confinement. He actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself to this girl before his death. It was alleged that he signed the letter with “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day and so he became the lovers’ Saint and February 14 became the Lovers’ Day!

On the other hand, there is a very interesting story about Cupid and His mortal Bride Psyche in Roman mythology. Cupid is the most famous of St. Valentine symbols. images-3.pngHe is seen as a mischievous, winged child armed with bow and arrows aiming at hearts of lovers, causing them to fall deeply in love! The arrows signify desire and emotions of love. In ancient Greece he was known as Eros, the young son of Aphrodites, the goddess of love and beauty. To the Romans he was Cupid, and his mother was Venus.

The science of love

Unknown-4.jpegGetting struck by Cupid’s arrow may very well take your breath away and make your heart race this Valentine’s Day but, most of our body’s chemistry is controlled by the brain. “Falling in love” is not an exception. We call it love. It feels like love. But this most profound  of all human emotions is probably nature’s beautiful way of keeping the human species alive and reproducing.  We are basically animals with inborn biological instincts, and your brain is creating powerful hormones to get you to mate. Research scientists have found that a location at the base/ bottom of  the brain is responsible for the triggering of the production of hormones and chemicals that give the feeling of falling in love. “Falling in love” is simply Mother Nature making sure that you find a mate and procreate! Dr. Renshaw, of Loyola University puts it this way:

“Falling in love causes our body to release a flood of feel-good chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions. This internal elixir of love is responsible for making our cheeks flush, our palms sweat and our hearts race.

Levels of these substances, which include dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, increase when two people fall in love. Dopamine creates feelings of euphoria while adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for the pitter patter of the heart, restlessness and overall preoccupation that go along with experiencing love. MRI scans indicate that love lights up the pleasure center of the brain. When we fall in love, blood flow increases in this area, which is the same part of the brain responsible for drug addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders.” Waw! you may exclaim.                                      

images-5.jpegDr Helen Fischer, the well renowned expert on the biology of love and attraction of Rutgers University in the U.S.A. has carried out numerous researches on the love areas in the brain and has proposed 3 stages of love, namely:

  • Lust or Erotic passion- Sexual drive which may not necessarily focus on just one individual.
  • Attraction – Early stage of romantic love characterized by intense craving for the loved one. (The intensity of romantic love tends to last between six months to two and a half years before turning into attachment for most people)
  • Attachment – deep feelings of union or bonding with a long term partner. It is believed to have evolved to enable a couple remain together to bear and rear children. Attachment phase however needs a lot of patience, understanding and consideration for the other partner. Frequent sexual relations between couples at this stage, releases hormones that warms up and bind the relationship.

Each stage is believed to be driven by different hormones and chemicals.

Here are some of the cocktail of “Love” hormones/chemicals shooting into your body from a location at the base/bottom of your brain, to make you happy victims of nature’s procreation plan:

  • Pheromones: Chemicals you emit to attract a partner
  • Oxytocin: This hormone bonds a woman to her sex partner
  • Vasopressin: Men release this hormone during sex. It promotes pair bonding
  • Phenylethylamine (PEA): A natural amphetamine
  • Dopamine and Norepinephrine: These are natural mood enhancers
  • Testosterone: This hormone increases your sexual desire and drive

Hmm, this can be alarming! Well, love still makes the world go round and being in love is the most beautiful feeling one can experience. I wish everyone could stay in love forever. Modern science is however weakening our myths and proving that love lives in the brain and not in the heart. But, does it matter? Next time you are sending a Valentine Card, instead of writing, “I love you from the bottom of my heart”, it may be more appropriate to write, “I love you from the bottom of my brain!”.

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New Year and the Quest for Happiness

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It is the New Year 2016. Everyone wishes each other ‘Happy New Year’ as they meet, or, through phone calls, texts, emails, and other electronic or social media. In fact, the month of January will witness a lot of Happy New Year wishes. We wish to be happy and wish that our families and loved ones are happy. This explains why we use this expression in the start of a New Year. In the new year, people will also make resolutions that they hope will eventually make them happy if they keep to them. This clearly indicates that the main purpose of our lives is to seek happiness.

What then is happiness? What makes people happy? Why is everyone not happy? Is happiness an illusion?  How can one maintain the state of happiness?

Happiness is defined as a state of well-being, characterized by the experience of positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Happiness is not something ‘ready-made’. It comes from your own actions and choices.

A formula has been produced by prominent positive psychology researchers, like Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, and promoted by people like Deepak Chopra, renowned endocrinologist and pre-eminent leader of the mind-body-spirit movement.  

Their formula is:   H = S + C + V 

H: Happiness,  S: Our biological set point,  C: Conditions of living and  V: Voluntary actions or choices we make daily. Based on their research they arrived at the following breakdown:

S – 50%    Our biological set point – This is your set attitude to life and events. Are you an outgoing or a withdrawn person? Do you notice the wrong side of things first? Do you always complain or do you see obstacles as an opportunities? This biological set point indicates our inherited and preconditioned, subconscious beliefs. With conscious effort and awareness, this can be improved.

C – 10%    Conditions of living – Your environment and financial state. Remember, being very rich or very poor does not make you happy.

V – 40%    Voluntary actions or choices we make everyday. – This is the most important. This involves choices for:

*Purely Personal Pleasure ( which in many cases are short-lived) 

*Creativity – doing something that gives your life a purpose                    

*Relationship – actions or choices that make other people happy – actions of kindness, affection, forgiveness, and appreciation, etc.

The conclusion this leads to is that a greater percentage of our state of happiness is based on actions and choices we make everyday and are under our control. These actions and choices consist of doing meaningful, good and pleasant things in our lives and in the lives of others. With conscious awareness, we can maintain the state of happiness.

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Happy New Year!

Read more on my post on ‘Happiness’ of November 14, 2014. https://philougbor.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/happiness/

December, the Month of Reflection

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December is the most wonderful month of the year. It is the last month of the year, and the month that completes a circle of time. Apart from being the most exciting period of the year, it is also a month of Reflection, a time of Contemplation. This reflection is like looking at yourself in a mirror and seeing your life staring back at you. 

For me, a lot has happened in the year 2015. There have been some traumatic or dramatic periods, depending on how IMG_6193I look at the happenings. There were other experiences and events, likes and dislikes, anxieties and fears which have all come and gone!

On the other hand, there have been very exciting and uplifting events of which the sweet memories still warm my spirit. These include the wedding of my daughter, Tochi, to her soul mate, Dejan, and the coming together of all my family in Summer. There were relaxing trips to exotic places with my husband, Felix, and workshops on Self-Development that I conducted. What is common in these uplifting events was that they were periods of great loving, sharing, giving and joy! 

As we reflect, we begin to see a pattern – everything is subject to time. Time is defined as a measure in which events can be ordered from past through present. Everything comes and goes. Even when we get what we so much longed for, with time the excitement wears away. Everything we perceive or experience through our senses passes away. We realize that our worries, fears, anxieties, hurts, resentments, etc, are all subject to time. Our mortal life is subject to time. With time the mortal body passes away. 

What then is not subject to time?  That, whose experience does not pass away with time is your Real self – the Inner you – your God-self. Your God-self is not your physical body identified by your profession, nationality, colour, status or wealth.Unknown-3 God-self is ‘God in you‘ created in the image of God.
You need both, your physical and your God-self. The “God-self” has the ability to transcends time. It is capable of  maintaining lasting joy, peace and love that does not pass away with time. It is peaceful in times of tumult. It is joyous in any event and is very loving. It is that God image in us.

This loving God-self is what this period is about. “Emmanuel, God with us.” (Matt.1:23). December with the associated Christmas Season, and the expectation of a New Year, brings out the best in us, our Inner Self of  Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. Loving involves thanksgiving, sharing, giving and caring. This ultimately results in lasting Peace and Joy! It is up to us to get aware and nurture this inner self and carry it into the next year!

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Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year 2016!

Managing our Emotions and Emotional Intelligence

One of the crucial ways of living a happy, healthy, balanced life is being able to manage our emotions. When we talk about Emotions, what comes to mind is, ‘the way we feel’ or ‘how we feel’ – our moods and temperaments. It is not easy to define emotion, but simply put, e-motion is ‘energy-in-motion’. Emotions are energized mental feelings influenced by the meanings we give to events or situations in our life. They are a state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence our behaviour. Some emotions can be identified by the individual’s external physical expressions. You can identify the emotions expressed in the pictures below.

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Where do emotions come from?

Emotions begin from what we pick up with our 5 senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, and the interpretations we give to these. Our brains are wired like most animals, to look for threats or rewards. When one is detected, our feeling region of the brain, the Limbic system, sometimes known as the Amygdala, releases chemical messages into the body to alert us.  Emotions are the effects of these chemical messages traveling from the brain to the rest of the body. 

When we experience something bad, like a threat, Adrenalin and Cortisone are released for a fight or flight reaction. When we experience something good, or rewarding, Dopamine, Oxytocin and Serotonin are released as the feel good emotions. These chemicals affect our behaviour. The feeling region of the brain kicks in before the thinking or reasoning. What constitutes threat or reward has long changed for man; but, even after the evolution of the frontal reasoning region of our brain, humans still succumb to, and are controlled by the ‘reptilian‘ brain. Some neurologists try to distinguish between the words, emotions and feelings. I use both freely.

UnknownWhereas all emotions happen subconsciously, our thinking can influence our behaviour. Past experiences and core belief systems influence the way we look at, and think about events and circumstances. Therefore we should manage emotions with conscious thinking. Emotions influence how we see the world and everything around us.

Many publications on emotion and behavior suggest that all emotions are derived from 5 CORE Feelings, each with varying degrees in intensity from normal acceptable, to extreme abnormal and hurtful. The 5 core Feelings are, Happy, Sad, Angry, Afraid and Ashamed. We use so many words to describe various degrees of these feelings or emotions in our everyday life.

I however believe, like many others, that there are only two roots to all emotions that we experience. These are Love and Fear. All other emotions are variations of these two.  Thoughts, which influence behaviour arise from either love, or fear.  Anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, inadequacy, confusion, hurt,  guilt, shame, are all fear-based emotions. Emotions or feelings of joy, happiness, caring, trust, compassion, truth, contentment, satisfaction, appreciation, are love-based emotions.

There are varying degrees of intensity of both types of emotions, some are mild, some moderate, and others strong in intensity.  For example, anger, in a mild form, can be felt as disgust or dismay. At a moderate level, it can be felt as offended or annoyed, and at an intense level can be felt as rage or hate. The emotion that always sets off anger is fear.

Everyone experiences some form of emotion all the time. The issue is how these emotions are handled or managed. If emotions are not managed correctly, they cause health and social problems. They can create hurtful outcomes not only to other people, but most especially, to oneself. Emotions have a direct effect on how our bodies work.  As shown above, fear or threat-based emotions stimulate the release of one set of chemicals while love-based emotions release a different set of chemicals.  If the fear-based emotions are haboured for a long time, they damage the immune system, the endocrine system and other systems in your body. Medical research in Mind/Body Medicine emphasises the relationship between emotions, thinking, and the physical body.

images-7We may not be able to change or repress our emotions, but we can learn how to accept them, and manage them. By knowing who we are, being conscious of the way we think, changing past belief systems that do not help us, we can learn to manage our emotions.

My earlier posts on ‘Thoughts’ and ‘Wellbeing’, showed how every thought is energy that affects our emotions, which then influence our behaviour in a positive, negative or even a neutral way. Taking control of our thoughts, therefore is the first and important step towards managing our emotions.

You have all heard about Emotional Intelligence, or Emotional Quotient (EQ), made popular by Daniel Goleman. This is different from Intelligence Quotient, (IQ).

Unknown-1 copy“Emotional Intelligence (EQ) simply means being able to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups”. EQ is partially determined by how a person relates to others and maintains emotional control.

On the other hand,  Intelligence Quotient (IQ)  refers to a score derived from one of several standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. 

EQ Vs IQ

  • Emotional intelligence is essentially the ability to recognize, manage, and use your emotions in positive and constructive ways.
  • It is also being able to recognize the emotional states of others and engaging emotions in ways that feel good to all and create mutual safety, trust, and confidence.
  • Emotional intelligence is what helps you communicate clearly, lead others, and build powerful relationships at work and in your personal life.

Emotional intelligence also helps you motivate yourself, solve problems, and achieve your goals.

Managing our emotion means developing a high EQ. People with high EQ can manage their emotions, use their emotions to moderate their thoughts, and accurately perceive others’ emotions. The good thing is that this can be learnt.

On the other hand, Intelligence Quotient (IQ), identifies the Ability to learn, understand and apply information to skills, using logical reasoning, word comprehension, and mathematical skills. People with higher IQ can think in abstracts and make connections by making generalizations easier. They could also be in the world of their own!

Research has shown EQ to be more important than IQ in almost every role in life, and even more so, in roles of leadership.

Emotional Intelligence is directly linked to Self-awareness, Self-esteem, Compassion, Empathy, and Adaptability. These are important predictors of success in life.

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‘Well-being’ or ‘Wellbeing’

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‘Well-being’ is not just the absence of disease or illness. It is not only about good nutrition. It is not about exercising. It is not about going to the spar or having a massage. It is not easy to give a simple definition of Well-being, but I think it is necessary for people to have a better understanding of what this word means. Well-being is a complex combination of a person’s physical, emotional, social, economic, psychological, and spiritual state. It is about feeling good and functioning well, both as individuals and collectively.

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‘Well-being’ or ‘Wellbeing’ is a compound word accepted in both forms, though, the hyphenated form is very common and more popular. I freely use both forms.

In recent years, well-being has moved from the realm of philosophy to that of science. There has been a growing body of research into what contributes to the quality of people’s experiences of their lives. This has enabled a new understanding of the factors that both influence and constitute well-being.

The way you think and feel are as important to your wellbeing as food, genetic make-up, circumstances, upbringing and environment. 

images-1Well-being is strongly linked to happiness and life satisfaction. Positive well-being requires heightened personal development which gives a sense of self-fulfillment, a feeling of having a purpose and connection with others and your environment. When people feel they have a purpose in the world, they feel that they belong, that they matter. Therefore personal development, (knowing who you are, your potentials and capabilities, and being able to develop these), is crucial to achieve a feeling of wellbeing.

 Research has shown that Personal development and Wellbeing are the most important determinants of our future, the future of our family, the future of our community, our country and the world. It is also the determinant of good leadership. All aspects of life are interdependent on wellbeing. In short, wellbeing could be described as how you feel about yourself and your life. Every aspect of your life influences your state of wellbeing. Well-being is regarded as an ultimate goal of human endeavour.

Let us take the word itself – Wellbeing. This is a compound word – ‘Well’ and ‘Being’ The word ‘well’ does not need a lot of explaining. When we feel ‘well’ we feel good, we feel healthy, we feel happy. To feel well is a positive experience. When we feel well, we exhibit a positive relationship with everyone and everything around us.

The word ‘Being’ on the other hand is about life itself, about living – the course of existence of an individual; the actions and events that occur in living; a state of being or existence above and beyond the limits of material experience. Living includes the environment. Therefore the word ‘being’ points to the state of Beingness– The state or quality of being alive or of existence. This emphasis the fact that how each person thinks and feels about his or her life is important for wellbeing.

wellbeing_circles1The Physical body with all the  external interfaces, affect your internal physiology.  Emotions – the way you feel, and the way you think also affect your physiology. The way you see others and interact with,  or react to others, the way you see your environment, affect your behaviour, your physiology and ultimately, your wellbeing. Your beliefs and spiritual outlook in life influence the way you think, the way you behave, the way you see others and your circumstances. These in turn affect the way you feel and all contribute to your Well-Being!

Well being therefore touches on aspects of the body, mind and spirit.

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What are the people you meet today teaching you?

Life is a journey and we learn along the way. We are like pilgrims, on a journey to discover, to witness. What if everything you see, and everyone you meet everyday is teaching you something? What if you consider yourself as an ambassador of the Higher Being, God, and as a Human Being, you are here to relate to others? images-5
Everyday we have temporary relationships with those beside us in a bus ride, in the plane, walking along with us on the street, in the market, at school, in a classroom, on holidays, or at the workplace.
It is up to us to decide if these contacts will be significant or meaningless. Everyone we meet is a story in itself, a mystery. I know that these days, people have become very cautious about talking to ‘strangers’. We’ve become very suspicious of one another, even when there is no reason to be. Most of us will never dare make eye contact with people we do not know.

There is a man here in Vienna who usually goes topless all year round, even during the coldest winter seasons. Everyone believes he is mad. I believed he was mad. I avoided him and wondered why the authorities have not confined him, until one day he stood by me in the bus. This was in winter. He was topless, with shorts and open sandals! I summoned up courage and spoke to him while everyone stared at us. imagesHe told me his name was Robert (I think), and is half African, half British. I asked him why he went about topless and if he was not cold. He replied, “ I want to prove something.” “What do you want to prove?” I asked.  “ I want to prove that the human skin is meant to withstand a lot more than we think. I have slept outside in the snow. On one occasion, the ambulance came to pick me up assuming that I was dead and frozen” he chuckled.  “ I got up, scraped away the snow on my eyelashes and told them that I was alright!” he laughed. I was holding a book in my hand. He turned to me and asked for the title of the book. I tilted the book towards him. It was a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer. He read out the title, “‘You’ll see it when you believe it’. You see what I mean?” he chuckled again. “This is exactly what I want to prove!”

What a lesson! Robert is still around, healthy and strong in Vienna. Perhaps someday, science would be writing about him and his belief about the human skin!

You may remember some stories of interesting encounters with strangers you met in your life’s journey. I have been opportuned to moved around the world and I cannot here recount the innumerable inspiring things I have learned by meeting new people. Each person is just like me, with families, loved ones, concerns, hopes and aspirations. images-1

You may have heard of the ‘Six degree of separation hypothesis” by Frigyes Karithy in 1929. This hypothesis states that any two people in the world, by way of introduction, are connected in a maximum of 6 steps. This means that any two strangers could be connected through some acquaintances if they take time to introduce themselves step by step, thereby forming ‘a chain of a friend of a friend’. This hypothesis is now often used as a synonym for the idea of the “small world” or the ‘shrinking world phenomenon’, but who knows? Presently, analogous experiments are being conducted in some universities in the U.S.A. on social connectedness among Internet and email users.

We are all connected. As we move around each day and meet people, we could be the channels through which God can reach someone. Or perhaps there is a message from each person for us. You will notice how nice and appreciative most people are when you are the first to reach out. Moreover, you get some pleasant feeling of inner happiness.

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