Occasionally science gives us little glimpses of deeper truths that we normally wouldn’t associate with the scientfic method.
A recent study of acts of selfless love shows that such acts – acts of self-sacrifice or charity with no expectations of reward – don’t bring us the same kind of pleasure that romantic love brings.
Romantic love tends to light up the same reward areas of the brain that are activated by cocaine. But new research shows that selfless love—a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others—actually turns off the brain’s reward centers.
It isn’t news that the two types of love are different. We even have different words for them: agape for selfless love and eros for romantic love. We are all called to have agape for our fellow man, but we may or may not be called to eros for a spouse. And if that eros does not naturally transition to agape, we may find ourselves not feeling any kind of love for our spouse.
What is interesting here is not just that the two types of love bring about two different brain responses, but that acts of agape actually turn off the response centers that lead us to such great enjoyment of eros.
So the holier we become, the less need we have of “the warm fuzzies” of your typical Hollywood romantic comedy. It’s almost as if the physiological response to passion, the triggering of those reward centers, is some kind of crutch, a crutch that teaches us to love in spite of ourselves. As we become more and more capable of selfless love, we use the crutch less and less until, finally, we can throw it away.
I still enjoy those puppy dog moments with my wife. Yes, we still have them. But I am even happier during those quiet moments where we sit together, not talking, just being. Those moments where we just simply fit together and everything seems right with the universe. Those are moments indeed when the Peace of the Lord is truly with us.