An AHA Screwdriver For Your Heart
In Monday’s post about developing the AHA Screwdriver – that is, the Affective Hedonic Adjustment tool that would help you synthesize a happier life – I mentioned that one of the biggest paradoxes of our lives can be the way that real love will turn our expectations on their head. We make lists and plans and work really hard to both find and be the perfect person to love…and then it all gets “gang aft agley“, as the poet would put it.
Why is that? There’s a lot of scientific reasons for it, involving the limbic system, (“Suddenly across the room their eyes met,“) epinephrine and dopamine released into the bloodstream (“He makes me feel like no one else ever has!“), the release of prolactin and oxytocin (“I could just lie here in your arms forever“) and the very real addiction that can come from repeating the process (“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…“). Some would feel that there’s something lost by putting such a “magical” event into such Newtonian terms, but real love, whether a mystical force or chemical reaction, is pretty amazing regardless.
It could even be argued that having a more thorough understanding of these chemical processes, along with the psychological phenomena like confirmation bias (“We were destined to be together!“) could be a useful way to develop your AHA screwdriver. After all, if you can identify Ah, she’s holding my hand, here comes the dopamine! Wheeeee!! then that should make the let down when she’s not holding your hand more rational, right? Ah, I’m having a surge of prolactin, the depressant hormone, so that my body will stop the dopamine is better than Why did she stop holding my hand? She must not want to be with me! I’m disgusting! Why did I ever think she would like me in the first place?
Sad to say, it ain’t so.
Real Love is Real, Regardless
As was brilliantly written about in the most recent Hyperbole and a Half, emotions like love and depression, even when you understand them, still affect you. You can know that you are just suffering (or enjoying) a chemical imbalance, but that doesn’t necessarily change the effects of that imbalance. Let’s use a metaphor: if you’re sitting in the middle of the desert, having a map or even a GPS doesn’t give you any more water.
I suppose it could be argued that the map could help show you the direction of the water…but again, there are other factors. I used the analogy recently that it’s not so great having a map to your destination if your car doesn’t even have wheels. What it comes down to is: having read many books, scientific articles, consulted with and attended lectures by some of the finest minds in the field, I am fairly confident in saying: I know a lot about love, but I don’t know much of anything about dealing with it.
Theory is fine, but it’s the practice that gives you the real tools you need. So rather than list books on love that I’ve enjoyed (which is almost what this post was), I’ll just say: sit with the love you have, in whatever form, right now. Self love. Filial love. Romantic love. Long-lost love. “Loving mens, loving womens, loving ALL God’s children!” to quote the band A3.
And when I say sit, I don’t mean revel. I don’t mean enjoy it, or miss it, or long for it. You’ll do all those things anyway. Instead, sit and watch yourself do it. See how the love actually makes you feel, or rather, see how you choose to feel about love. It’s a strange little meta-practice, but I’m convinced it’s the only place we’ll really figure out how to handle this crazy little thing called…well, you know what I mean.