Recently The Atlantic wrote an article summarizing a 70-year Harvard project, The Study of Adult Development. When I was interviewed as the director of the study for 40 years, I made two rash generalizations, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people,” and “Happiness equals love—full stop.” Let me defend my seemingly sentimental generalizations …
To understand love, those usually helpful resources—the ancient Greeks, the poets, the psychologists, even Cupid—all fail us. Too readily, these experts become preoccupied with lust and forget about lasting attachment. And the Buddha, too, lets us down; for he was too preoccupied with compassion to appreciate lasting attachment. True, love is compassionate; but compassion is not always love. Real love is attached, selective and enduring. Mature mammalian, not just human, love involves enduring, remarkably unselfish limbic attachment.
If we are to find meaning in life, we must pay as much mind to our limbic “hearts” as to our neocortical cognitions. … To see meaning as due to purpose, values, self-esteem and efficacy is to judge the brain book by its cover. Positive emotions, not cognitions, are the engines that drive meaning. The positive emotions that create meaning are love, compassion, hope, awe, gratitude, trust and joy.