Art, I wish I'd made this, Writer's life

Level Thinking: Generous Chemicals

Since hearts and flowers day is tomorrow, I’m doing some level thinking about the chemistry of like versus the chemistry of love.

But first, if you haven’t already found that perfect Valentine for your loved one, you’re running out of time. Stop reading this blog and go over to book artist Ginger Burrell’s blog.  She’s posted a wonderful flutter book, which can be made by downloading and printing the .pdf she’s provided. Bingo, instant Valentine, and you made it yourself, which is a big bonus.

When you’re ready to come back from art to amygdala, let’s look at the chemistry of liking someone. Amygdalae are almond-shaped tissue deep inside the temporal (over the ears) lobes of our brain. Being good little mammals, our brains are chemically-wired to find a mate, conceive offspring, raise them, and then find another mate. It’s better for the survival of a species to have different genetic mix for each litter.

The problem are

  1. raising human offspring takes decades
  2. society has built a lot of legal, religious, financial, and emotional barriers around taking a new mate every few months
  3. you just might like the guy/gal you’re with and thrill in the thought of a long-term relationship.

When human beings come together passionately, the amygdalae simultaneously produces two different sets of brain chemicals. One says “Wow!” One says, “Go away; leave me alone; I’m furious at you; and I never want to see you again.” It doesn’t seem fair, but the “Wow” chemicals last under an hour and the “Go away, etc.” chemicals last for about two weeks, particularly in women. A surprising number of people report feelings of intense anger, even rage, for up to two weeks after an intimate experience.

Fortunately those glorious little amygdalae are wired to produce a third set of chemicals in response to what are called generous behaviors. Nurturing creates comfort and safety, and the bonding chemicals can help sustain a relationship indefinitely, but you have to do the behaviors that produce them frequently. Every day is best, even if it is only for a single minute. The more generous behaviors you do, the more sensitive your brain becomes to their positive effects.

Several years ago there was an article in Psychology Today about what behaviors activated those generous chemicals. Here are some suitable-for-general-viewing behaviors from that list:

  • Smile while making eye contact
  • Provide a treat without being asked
  • Give unsolicited approval, via smiles or compliments
  • Gaze into each other’s eyes
  • Listen intently, and restate what you hear
  • Forgive or overlook an error or thoughtless remark, past or present
  • Synchronize breathing
  • Hug with intent to comfort
  • Quietly share the same space

So even though tomorrow will be the usual riot of flowers, cards, prezzies, dinners, etc., how about on Saturday morning, and all mornings from here on out, we spend  quiet time looking at and listening to one another, synchronizing our breathing, and providing small treats? I have a feeling the world can use all the generous chemicals we can get.