It can be easy to just give in to hate... to simply shut down others' thoughts, opinions, feelings, and experiences without hesitation. You might not even know you're doing it. I mean, judging those around us and sticking with who or what's comfortable is just what we humans tend to do. Can this behavior be changed? Can we actually CHOOSE love instead? YES! To do so, let's first understand a little bit more about our human tendency to discriminate.
To Know Love, We must Understand Hate
Discrimination can be a product of both nature and nurture depending on the definition. One definition of discrimination is "recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another." We use this kind of discrimination to protect ourselves from danger, make every-day decisions, or even just to categorize the mundane. For example, I may choose to take a well-lit alleyway over a dark alleyway. This is not because I have a personal or moral issue with one kind of alleyway, but because I simply don't feel safe walking where I can't see. I may also choose to eat an apple over a banana for a snack. I still like bananas a lot. I just felt like having an apple this time.
The other definition of discrimination is "the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex." This is not hiring someone because of their gender or following someone around the store because of the color of their skin. This kind of discrimination is learned, it's infectious, and it's harmful to ourselves and others. This is the kind of discrimination we are working hard to rid our world of. We will always be as unique as our fingerprints, and we will always have our disagreements, but if we just take a step back, assess our intentions, validate our fellow humans, and strive to make that strong, conscious effort to understand those around us, we CAN feel the benefits of choosing love!
What changes when I #ChooseLove?
Harry Reis, PhD, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships, believes that choosing love can benefit your health in 10 HUGE ways! Before you can start though, he says the key is to "feel connected to other people, feel respected and valued by other people, and feel a sense of belonging...”
1. Lower Stress
If we've learned one thing from 2020 it's that constant negativity can be toxic. Hatred is a terribly negative and consuming feeling. It can lead to anger and aggression. These severe emotions can trigger stress responses in the body leading to uncomfortable symptoms like aches and pains, nausea, insomnia, fluctuations in weight, and memory issues.
2. Lower Risk for Substance Abuse
That's right! Remember how I said hate is consuming? Well, it can take over completely and cause some to seek out an alternative reality. This is due to the isolating and self-destructive nature of hate.
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Research has linked positive relationships with others to lower blood pressure! This is a vital finding as high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to stroke, heart attack, and/or aneurysm.
4. Less Depression and Anxiety
Research shows us that stable relationships with others based on love and understanding can elicit a "dopamine-reward" response in the brain that allows one to maintain a natural feeling of happiness. In the long-term, such positive relationships with others can active a "bonding" part of the brain that lowers anxiety!
5. Better Pain Control
Those love-based relationships with your fellow humans also help you to manage pain better. Specifically chronic issues like headaches and back pain. The longer you choose to love, the better this gets and the less likely you are to complain of certain kinds of chronic pain!
6. Constructive Coping
Love allows your to more easily build a genuine support system. The more often you choose love, the larger your support system grows and the more strength, encouragement, and love, you get in return. Difficult situations never seem so difficult when you have a community behind you!
7. Stronger Immune System
We mentioned that hate is stressful on your body and mind. Did you know that stress may even lower your immune response? Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University found that people who exhibit positive emotions are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses. Don't want a tougher time fighting off illnesses? Give love a try!
8. Faster Healing
Love may not give you actual superpowers, but it can get you close to super! Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center gave married couples blister wounds. The wounds healed nearly twice as fast in spouses who interacted warmly compared with those who demonstrated a lot of hostility toward each other. You don't have to be married to experience those benefits though, It all boils down to positive emotions and responses!
9. Longer Life
Sorry again. No superpowers and no immortality, BUT remember hate can be incredibly isolating. Reis states that “Loneliness is associated with all-cause mortality -- dying for any reason...” That means the more connected and loved you feel, the more likely you are to live a longer life!
10. Less Greed, More Happiness
Fun fact: we have scientific evidence pointing to the fact that the power of love trumps the power of money! A study in the Journal of Family Psychology shows happiness depends more on the quality of relationships than on the level of income. This is why we need not only to choose it for ourselves but make sure love spreads!
Where do I start?
Take a minute to check out this AWESOME TEDTalk on How to Love and Be Loved from psychologist and former football player, Billy Ward. Then, go into the world and recognize that everyone is capable of being your sun, your lighthouse, or your disco ball!