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Love actually: Americans agree on what makes people "feel the love"

February 16, 2020

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Love actually: Americans agree on what makes people "feel the love"

Yesterday I was watching a recording of parts of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, attended by DT. Before he got up to talk, a very eloquent speech was given by Harvard Business School Professor Arthur Brooks in which he quoted Jesus Christ on the subject of love and the need to love even your enemies.

DT got up and said he didn’t agree with that (one assumes the teachings of Christ) and went on to spew invective against his supposed enemies including Nancy Pelosi and Mitt Romney. As an agnostic I don’t see Jesus as a divine figure but certainly a teacher with considerable wisdom to impart.

Obviously, the quote from the John Testament “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins,” was foreign to DT.

I was pondering the concept of love when I came across this study.

According to the researchers, people in the U.S. largely agree about what makes them feel loved, coming to a general consensus that it may be small gestures that matter most.

The researchers found that small, non-romantic gestures – like someone showing compassion or snuggling with a child – topped the list of what makes people feel loved. Meanwhile, controlling behaviors—like someone wanting to know where they were at all times—were seen as the least loving.

The researchers said the study results – published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships—could give insight into how love affects people’s overall well-being.

What the researchers say: “Whether we feel loved or not plays an important role in how we feel from day to day,” the lead author said. “We were curious about whether most Americans could agree about what makes people feel loved on a daily basis, or if it was a more personal thing. Our results show that people do agree, and the top scenarios that came back weren’t necessarily romantic. So, it’s possible for people to feel loved in simple, everyday situations. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top gestures.”

The researchers recruited 495 American adults to answer a questionnaire about whether they thought most people would feel loved in 60 different scenarios. The situations included positive actions, like being greeted by a pet; neutral scenarios, like feeling close to nature; and negative situations, like someone being possessive.

After gathering the data, the researchers analyzed it with a cultural consensus model—a framework for measuring the beliefs of a culture. The researchers said that while participants disagreed on some items there were many instances where the participants agreed.

“We found that behavioral actions—rather than purely verbal expressions—triggered more consensus as indicators of love. For example, more people agreed that a child snuggling with them was more loving than someone simply saying, ‘I love you,’” the lead author said. “You might think they would score on the same level, but people were more in agreement about loving actions, where there’s more authenticity perhaps, instead of a person just saying something.”

Participants also agreed on what doesn’t make people feel loved. Behaviors that could be seen as controlling were ranked among the least loving actions.

“In American culture, it seems that controlling or possessive behaviors are the ones people do not feel loved by,” the researchers said. “If someone wants to know where you are always, or acts controlling, those actions are not loving to us.”

The researchers found that people in a relationship and people with agreeable personality traits tended to agree more with the cultural consensus.

The researchers noted that even though the results may reflect how the American culture in general feels about love, individuals still can, and do, have their own personal feelings about what makes them feel loved.

“It may not be wise to go into a relationship assuming that both of you agree that all of the same things will make you feel loved,” the lead researcher said. “I think it’s important to communicate these things to each other.”

So, what? Strong men, dictators and authoritarian CEOs rely on fear rather than love. But leaders who show love to their followers and acknowledge their strengths and try earnestly to meet their needs produce better, more harmonious and vastly more productive societies and businesses.

Incidentally there’s a great short video by Arthur Brooks which is worth pondering.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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