New research suggests the perception of brief feelings of love throughout the day appear to be associated with an individual’s psychological well-being. Pennsylvania State University scientists discovered people who report emotional connections in everyday life had significantly higher levels of psychological well-being.
In two studies, the researchers found that people who experienced higher “felt love” — brief experiences of love and connection in everyday life — also had significantly higher levels of psychological well-being.
Psychological well-being was defined as feelings of purpose and optimism and was compared across participants. Investigators also found that people with higher felt love tended to have higher extraversion personality scores, while people with lower felt love scores were more likely to show signs of neuroticism.
Researchers from the Penn State Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS) believe findings could one day lead to interventions aimed at boosting well-being. “We took a very broad approach when we looked at love,” said Dr. Zita Oravecz, assistant professor of human development and family studies.
“Everyday felt love is conceptually much broader than romantic love. It’s those micro-moments in your life when you experience resonance with someone. For example, if you’re talking to a neighbor and they express concern for your well-being, then you might resonate with that and experience it as a feeling of love, and that might improve your well-being.”
According to the researchers, the baseline of the subjects’ felt love experiences, in general, rose throughout the study. This may be because participants became more skilled at recognizing daily examples of love and connection. This in turn, may have gradually increased the subjects’ overall sense of being loved. Stronger experiences of felt love, in turn, are associated with improvements in psychological well-being.
“It’s something that we’ve seen in the literature on mindfulness, when people are reminded to focus attention on positive things, their overall awareness of those positive things begins to rise,” said Oravecz.
“Similarly, just by paying attention to those everyday moments of felt love, we may also increase our awareness of the overall positive aspects of love in our daily lives. This effect replicates in both studies, implying that raising awareness of felt love in day-to-day life may itself be an intervention that raises levels of felt love over a longer period of time.”
The researchers note however, that because the studies have only shown a correlation between felt love and well-being, more research would be needed to establish a causal relationship. If a firmer connection is established, the researchers said possible interventions could be designed, such as sending regular reminders to a person’s smartphone to draw attention to the felt love that they may be experiencing in that moment to raise psychological well-being.
Similar interventions have been designed for mindfulness and gratitude.
The team relied on smartphone technology to gather data from participants throughout their everyday lives. In the first study, they recruited 52 people of various ages. The second study consisted of 160 undergraduate students.
Participants received six random prompts throughout the day over a four-week period to assess felt love and well-being, according to Dr. Timothy Brick, assistant professor of human development and family studies. He added that sending these messages randomly throughout the day was critical to manage the possible effects of expectation bias.
“It’s important from a research point-of-view,” said Brick. “If the participants expect a call or a text at a certain time of day, they are no longer reacting to what’s going on in their daily life, but are expecting the prompt and reacting to that expectation.”
Gathering data multiple times throughout the day from more than 200 subjects over a month can produce a lot of data, said Brick. Also, these everyday experiences of love tend to fluctuate during the study, which can result in what the researchers termed “noisy” data.
“It’s often very difficult to measure psychological quantities because we don’t always have a great idea about what’s going on in our own heads,” said Brick.
Oravecz added, “But with the right statistical methods, we can start to get at questions about difficult constructs like love or compassion, and hopefully build interventions to promote them.”
Source: Penn State University