Love is a word that we use to describe a whole range of emotions, behaviors and beliefs, from the most sublime virtue or good habit to the deepest interpersonal affection. We might express love for non-human animals or for principles or even for our religious beliefs. However, most people agree that love is a strong feeling of protectiveness, warmth and respect for another person.
When we are in love, our heart beats faster, our palms get sweaty and our thoughts focus on that one person. We want to be with them, talk to them, and think about them all the time. This is because of a jumble of chemicals in the brain including dopamine (pleasure), adrenaline (fight or flight) and norepinephrine. When the euphoria fades, and the jumble of hormones is replaced with the natural cuddling hormone oxytocin, we may feel closely bonded and begin to make long-term plans together.
We also experience love for non-human objects or ideas, such as a car that makes us happy, the freedoms of democracy and capitalism or the beauty of a mountain view. In fact, waking up to a sunny day, hugging a friend and seeing an old couple holding hands are among the things that bring people the most happiness, according to research by Three Barrels Brandy.
Love is a very complex concept, and it may be impossible to define. But it is worth pondering the many different types of love we can feel, from the sexual and physical love – called eros – to the family kind of love – called storge – to the spiritual and platonic love – called agape – that is the most enduring.