Love is an emotional and spiritual state, but it’s also a difficult thing to define. Psychologist and biologist Enrique Burunat, for example, sees love as a physiological motivation “like hunger, thirst, sleep, or the sex drive.” Other psychologists distinguish between primary and secondary emotions, and they view love as an emotion that stems from a mix of several different feelings, including passion and intimacy.
Regardless of its definition, most people agree that love is both an emotion and a feeling. It’s also a commitment to another person—whether it’s platonic, romantic or familial—and to nurture that relationship. In fact, the more you give to a relationship, the more you get back in return. But how do you know when you’re truly in love?
Psychologists and researchers have been studying love for about 75 years now, and we’ve learned quite a bit in that time. For example, we now know that there are several different types of love: romantic love is intense longing accompanied by physiological arousal, companionate love is affection and a sense of closeness that doesn’t include arousal, and ai (also called unconditional or agape love) is selfless devotion.
But the biggest thing we’ve learned about love is that it takes work. Unlike other emotions, which can be controlled by your environment and the way you think, love is something you have to actively choose to cultivate. That means putting in the effort to make sure you’re treating your partner well and communicating openly, taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, and prioritizing spending time together.
For those looking to find happiness, the experts say that it’s essential to start with yourself and take small steps toward loving who you are. This could mean reading a novel or writing down three things you’re grateful for, but it can also be as simple as gazing up at the stars on a clear night.
While a happy life is attainable, it’s not necessarily easy. You’ll have to learn how to be content with what you have—whether that’s a good job, a wonderful family, or even just a cup of coffee. It also helps to be honest with yourself about what you value and what doesn’t matter.
And don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other people. You’re not a carbon copy of anyone else, and you don’t need to be. Be true to yourself and the people you love, and don’t worry about whether they’ll dump you if you leave the dishes in the sink or forget your anniversary. As long as you’re both doing your best to show each other that you care, you can count on each other to be there for you when the chips are down.