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The Sheer Complexity of Love

written by Angus Skinner 4 June 2013
Love 2.0

Angus Skinner, MAPP, works in his beloved and beautiful Scotland as an independent management consulting professional. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde. He has over 40 years experience of social work services across the UK. As Chief Social Work Inspector for Scotland for 15 years, Angus provided advice directly to ministers on all matters of social work service legislation, policy, and practice development. Full bio. Articles on Positive Psychology News by Angus are here.

“The sheer complexity of love’s biology is reason enough for awe.”

Love 2.0


Barbara Fredrickson writes these words early in her new book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. The first part of the book sets out a vision of what is so far known about love, including the body’s definition of love and the necessary preconditions. The second part provides guidance for applying this information, drawing on Fredrickson’s experiments with meditation and shared positivity micro-moments.

Fredrickson separates love as a frequent passing experience from commitment, truth, and trust. Commitment she sees as a special bond, an outcome of love. Love is fleeting, but on the upside, love is forever renewable.

“… love is the momentary upwelling of three tightly interwoven events: first, a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second, a synchrony between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors; and third, a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.”

There is certainly something interesting in the notion of Love 2.0, Fredrickson’s key insights into the momentariness of love, the vitality of eye contact, perhaps less so for sound, though, as Barenboim and others have emphasized and as Fredrickson acknowledges, sound is perhaps the first sense, pre-birth. Is this a paradigm shift on love? Perhaps not, but it is an important advance up the foothills to greater understanding.

Fredrickson argues that love, like all positive emotions follows the model of broaden-and-build.

“Those pleasant yet fleeting moments of connection that you experience with others expand your awareness in ways that accrue to create lasting and beneficial changes in your life.”

Most importantly she argues that it is the supreme emotion because it depends on connection, indeed physical connection. It becomes, as it were, Queen of the Emotions, because it helps us organize other positive emotions. There seems to me a profound truth there. That organizing also takes deliberate effort and choice.

I find the overall approach plausible and helpful, even if not yet entirely proven. It resonates in literature, art, and religion. Fredrickson’s science explains why and how we reach for love beyond flight, fear, or freezing, all of which we experience on the dance floor, and as Fredrickson exquisitely describes, she did on meeting the Dalai Lama. These are truly vital matters.

“Indeed your ability to see others – really see them, wholeheartedly – springs open.”

I know that joyous feeling. I also recognized what she meant when she said, “Micromoments like these are those essential nutrients of which most of us in modern life aren’t getting enough.” This hearkens back to the 1960’s, when John Lennon wrote “All You Need is Love.” Perhaps John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who is 80 this year, said it better in 1971 with Imagine, “Imagine all the people sharing all the world.” While this song is credited only to Lennon, we know Ono was crucial. In the video, Yoko Ono doesn’t open her mouth, but she is the one opening the curtains and letting in the light.

“So as you upgrade your view of love and learn to cultivate more micro-moments of it, you not only get benefits, you give benefits.”

It is good to have the science. There is quite a bit of science in the guidance part of the book, less in my opinion in the vision part, lots more to be found on Fredrickson’s research website.

Barbara Fredrickson Photo by Jeff Chappell

by Jeff Chappell

Fredrickson’s self-revelations help to tell the story. Yet there are wider stories to be told that are rarely touched on, namely love and care for older or disabled people, relatives or not. While the approach in this book is scientific, it would be good to see her PEP LAB launch some wider research. It seems more difficult to extend the sample base to include love among elders and also with and for disabled people. Perhaps the Templeton Foundation could help? These are the major challenge of future decades. E O Wilson writing of Consilience emphasized the coming together of science and art. Maybe that could play a part.

Learning how to love in youth and adulthood is one thing, and this superb book advances that, both in the description of love and in the guidance for establishing the conditions that make it more likely.

“Positivity resonance doesn’t spring up at random. It emerges within certain circumstances, stemming from particular patterns of thought and action.”

Learning how to love beyond that could be built on this approach. Think about love, for instance, in terminal care: each of those seconds is as important as any other. I once met a man who had been in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp expecting to die, dehydrated, and hopeless. He was rescued and led a very successful life. “My sole ambition, Angus, is to die in a state of connectedness and love with others and not the appalling sense of abandonment I felt before.”

Fredrickson writes “Love is a product of human evolution.” Quite so. “From birth” Fredrickson writes, “your body knew how to seek out love….” That is true for all of us. It is great to see science exploring the foothills; there will be much more to come. Fabulous. Read this book and await the next steps!


Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.

Wilson, E. O. (1999). Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Vintage.

Britton, K. H. (2011). What is Love, Anyway? Positive Psychology News.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Imagine lyrics

Photo Credit via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Sharing the snow courtesy of Gregory Bastien
Positivity resonance courtesy of HAMED MASOUMI

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