Research on Love and Health
Research on love and relationships show that engaging in deep and calming love in marriage helps us to:
- Have a higher immunity system.
- Lower rates of heart disease and other chronic illness.
- Reduces anxiety.
- Helps us live longer.
- Allows us to manage stress longer.
The key aspects of health benefits occur when we are:
- Fully open to receiving and giving love.
- Giving and feeling supported by engaging in emotional intimacy and deep connectivity.
- Soothed and inspired by interactions that facilitate growth and expand the heart.
Thus, platonic and altruistic love might also help benefit health just as romantic love does.
Yet, how many times have you found yourself hesitant to invest fully in expressing or receiving love? Often times we hold back because of:
- Fears that we will be rejected.
- Fears about being criticized.
- Concerns that we somehow do not measure up to others’ expectations.
- Insecurities that make us feel that others will not value us and reciprocate feelings.
- Lack of energy to invest fully in giving to others or to receive fully.
- Fears of losing love once we allow ourselves to feel it.
An expansive heart gives to others even in moments when it is not necessarily convenient to give or when one is not guaranteed that love will be returned. An expansive heart is one that is self aware and aligned with truths.
It is the act of openness and thoughtfulness that nourishes the heart in a selfless way, for when we take ego and fear out of the mix and express love from a space without agendas, our hearts and spirits stretch and grow in new ways.
While some researchers find a correlation between calm, loving marital relationships and higher levels of health, other researchers are considering the health benefits gained by individuals who are single, such as the Dalai Lama, who are engaging in deep altruistic love and connecting profoundly by giving selflessly to people.
Certainly, this kind of selfless love is also valuable in benefiting health-the act of creating spiritual communities and connecting intimately with others through altruistic acts creates significant physical and mental benefits.
Ester M. Sternberg, a researcher a research professor who authored The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions (Freeman, 2001), concluded that altruistic expressions of love may:
- Suppress disease activity.
- Activate an immune response that is healthful.
- Reduce stress and anxiety.
- Reduce chronic pain (the sense of giving releases endorphins, chemicals in the body that block pain).
- Improves mental outlook and energy levels.
The effects of altruism on a happy mood are well documented medically. Dr. Kathleen Hall, a world renowned expert in stress and founder of The Stress Institute, says that “Altruism creates a physiological responses or ‘helpers high’ that makes people feel stronger and more energetic and counters harmful effects of stress.”
Thus, expressing love altruistically may have as much of a health benefit as experiencing love in the context of longer term, married, romantic relationships.
How can we expand our heart energies and capacities to share love in ways that increase our health benefits?
(1) Engage in qi gong that is focused on energetically and spiritually opening the heart
The National Qi Gong Association’s free “Healing Wave” video online has a segment called “Open Heart Qi” that is very useful with movements that emphasize opening the heart center.
(2) Practice going out of your way to engage kind or loving behaviors. Any of us can say we are loving people, but do our actions truly reflect that? Are we willing to give love even when it is inconvenient or requires personal sacrifice?
Assess your behaviors of terms of how willing you are to invest in building loving relationships. Ask yourself:
- When was the last time, I went out of my way to give special flowers for someone to simply bring joy?
- When have I last taken time to prepare a special nourishing meal for someone?
- When did I last plan an excursion to uplift someone’s spirit?
- When did I actively seek to build new loving relationships?
Often times we are willing to do what is convenient and comfortable for us to express love, but the deeper benefits of stretching the heart come from those moments that are willing to go that extra mile to extend ourselves.
(3) Actively surround yourself with other loving people who are natural givers, and who enjoy investing love into other people.
When we surround ourselves with such people, there is a synergy that occurs from the dynamic of love going back and forth-it is this synergy that researchers are studying in married couples and concluding that such interactions are beneficial to health-but remember, that synergy can also occur among people who are single and expressing love.