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Quality Love, Quality Life?

Synopsis: This mini-love-lessons starts with an important life quality question; then goes on to a real life case; questions of “The most important factor?”, “What biology tells us about love”, then what constitutes high-quality love; and achievement of high love/life quality.

Is Your Life Quality Determined by Your Love Quality?

A growing body of evidence points to the quality and quantity of love in your life having a whole lot to do with the all over quality of your life. 

High-quality life means you are deeply pleased with the way your life is going, often happy, physically and mentally (especially mentally) healthy, successful and productive, and generally can be considered to be enjoying an enriched, growing and satisfied life.  Without sufficient amounts of these factors and feelings, life can be evaluated as being of mediocre to poor, or worse quality.  Overtly, life can look to be of high quality but covertly it may actually be quite problematic and of low quality.

Here is an example.  Milton was by all accounts a big success.  He had good health, money, status, influence, a record of outstanding accomplishments, peer and community respect, a seemingly ideal family and a whole lot more.  Milton, however, was deeply unhappy.

Two psychiatrists diagnosed Milton as depressed and prescribed various psychiatric medicines which did nothing, or apparently made his condition even worse.  It was not until a new therapist got Milton to examine the love factor in his life that things started to change for the better.  He began to see how loveless his life really was.  His nice marriage to a ‘trophy wife’ had no genuine love in it. Milton’s relationship with his children was distant at best. Friendships were all superficial.  Milton’s dealings with his parents and other family were only perfunctory.

Worst of all, Milton’s feelings for himself were summed up with the words “not good enough”.  His feelings about life, spiritual factors, meaning and purpose were merely mild as far as he could tell.  Milton had felt loved by his grandparents and deeply mourned their passing when he was in his twenties.  The fact that he once had felt loved is probably what had kept him going long after they were no longer in his life.  Now, however, he came to suspect he was in a state of serious love malnutrition, and that was ruining the quality of his life.  He saw it might even destroy his life if he didn’t do something about it.  Milton then went into several forms of counseling and therapy.

Marriage counseling was a great success because it led to a very amicable divorce and then to him later meeting a woman he could really love and who could truly love him.  Family counseling led to far better, love-filled, improved connections with his children.  Group therapy opened him to finding and growing real friendships, and individual therapy resulted in increasing healthy self-love.  It took a long time and a lot of hard emotional work but it was worth it!  Milton now says he loves life, and he now leads an exceptionally high quality life, full of healthy, real love while before he only had the trappings of a quality life.  He also jokingly says he doesn’t think he could get depressed even if he tried.

Is Love the Most Important Factor?

Milton’s experience may not be relative for everyone.  Certainly other factors besides love can make a great deal of difference to a person’s quality of life.  Physical health problems, severe poverty, war, crime, injustice, profound failure and loss, etc. all can greatly invade and have their destructive influence on one’s quality of life.  However, it may be that having high-quality, healthy, real love in one’s life may be the very most important factor in many people’s life.  Maybe yours?

There are many examples of people having all sorts of difficult problems but having ample, high-quality love in their life often makes the difference as to whether they felt they did or did not have a good life.  There also are countless examples where people having what they considered a bad life experienced it all changing for the better when healthy, real love came into their life.

There also is evidence pointing to various forms of false love, mediocre love and infrequently expressed or demonstrated love being correlated with or leading to a lesser and sometimes diminishing quality of life.

What Biology Tells Us about Love?

We learned that healthy, real love is biologically important when it was discovered in pediatrics that infants physically die of ‘failure to thrive’ illnesses when they do not experience the behaviors that convey love in their first year of life, even though they are well fed and well taken care of physically.  We learned this again when it was discovered in developmental psychology that infrequently loved children become what was diagnosed as psycho-social dwarfism i.e. the tendency not to physically grow except when being behaviorally loved.  These results were laboratory confirmed in animal comparative psychology when Harry Harlow’s experiments with infant monkeys got very similar results.

We learned this again when in rehabilitation medicine it was discovered that people in good i.e. well loved marriage, family and friendship relationships, recover from wounds, disabling accidents and debilitating illnesses far faster and far more often than those lacking such relationships (when all other factors are essentially equal).  The preponderance of evidence in these and other fields such as social psychology, the brain sciences, psychoneuroimmunology, medical sociology, etc. points to the arguable conclusion that both the quantity and quality of love in your life greatly effects a great deal about the quality and even the length of your life.

What is High-Quality Love?

One way to understand high-quality love is to look at the five major functions of healthy, real love.  When there is strong quality love frequently given or shown, both the receiver and the giver of that love are thought to experience the benefits of those five functions sufficiently and often in abundance (See the mini-love-lesson “A Functional Definition of Love”).

First, high-quality love can be seen to provide us with a sense of full and satisfying, often intimate, and a very personal connection with others.  In the absence of this connectedness there can grow a sense of both aloneness and loneliness, personal isolation, depleting emotional distance and disconnection.

Second, high-quality love can be seen to provide us with substantial safeguarding, looked after by loving others.  With safeguarding from loved ones, can come a sense of greater security and safety.  Without this safeguarding there is greater endangerment, sometimes accompanied by a sense of insecurity, apprehension and anxiety.

Third, with quality love there are efforts to help us improve, grow and generally be better than we were in a wide variety of ways.  With that can grow the sense that our improvements in any and all areas are important, wanted, encouraged, assisted and enjoyed by those who love us.  This, psychologically, both nourishes and nurtures us and helps us feel personally affirmed and meaningfully supported.  Without it there can be feelings of insignificance, abandonment, lack of personal importance to another, negation and dis-affirmation.  Without such efforts our all over improvement in life tends to be less supported, less sustained and generally hampered compared to those who have improvement assistance from their loved ones.

Fourth, quality love has a healing effect both mentally and physically. When we are physically or emotionally hurt, harmed, sick, disabled or in any way in need of healing, we heal more, faster and better when we experience being loved.  Part of this is that our loved ones take better care of us.  Another part of it is that feeling loved stimulates our self-healing mechanisms to operate better.  Another part of this healing effect of love is mysterious and perhaps spiritual or metaphysical.  Those without healthy, real, quality love in their life are thought to heal slower and less thoroughly.  It is also thought that their chances of survival with life threatening illnesses are less.

Fifth, real and healthy quality love is understood to reward our love actions, feelings, thoughts and our love receptions with greater happiness and often deep, profound, inner joy well beyond that of those who do not experience much quality, real love in their lives.  Fake and false forms of love apparently can and do provide initial or erratic, short-lived happiness and even occasional ecstasy, but this then fades or turns to agony.

Quality Love in Your Life Can Greatly Improve!

Like most other arenas of life, the arena of love in its many forms and types can be an arena of your functioning in which you purposefully improve.  You may be working at doing just that right now by reading this mini-love-lesson.  Of course you have to do a lot more than read.  You have to put into practice what you read about doing.  Unfortunately, there is a broad, cultural training which teaches the presence and quality of love in your life depends on being lucky or on some other force outside yourself and not on your own efforts.  Like everything else of importance, luck can play a role but your best chance of succeeding at love and having high-quality, real love depends mostly on your own ability to explore, experiment, study and develop your own love abilities.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question: Would you rate the quality of your life and the quality of love in your life to be ‘at the same level’, ‘improving’, ‘holding steady’ or ‘worsening’?

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