February has always been my least favorite month of the year. Although it’s the shortest in number of days, it somehow always seems to feel the longest to me. While January can feel hopeful, a new start, and March starts to usher in spring, February, stuck in the middle, has always felt a bit, well, blah.
Perhaps that makes some sense given that the month begins with the world relying on a rodent to predict the next 6 weeks of weather – and, by extension (for some of us at least), our perceived happiness, regardless of whether we are fans of the snow or warmth. Or perhaps it’s the often controversial Valentine’s Day smack in the middle of the month. I know, I know, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love. But it’s always felt a bit forced to me. When I was single, I was bummed that I didn’t have a Valentine (and Galentine’s was not really a thing back then); after I got married – and especially after having kids – it began to feel stressful, yet another thing on the never-ending checklist. And, much like Stephanie and her New Year’s Resolutions, I have realized that I am not alone.
But instead of adding it to my list of stressors, I decided to change the narrative and focus instead on what love really means and how I can use it both personally and professionally.
What is Love Anyway?
One thing I can say definitively that I love is music. Heck, I even named my company using a musical term. Fellow music lovers (especially if you are also children of the eighties) might recognize the line above from the 1983 Howard Jones song (or, for those who prefer the next decade, Haddaway’s 1993 dance club hit). And because I am not only a pop culture nerd but also a brain-science one, I looked up the scientific definition of love: “Love is a complex neurobiological phenomenon, relying on trust, belief, pleasure and reward activities within the brain.”
So let’s think about this in the context of our own lives. For me, music brings me joy, inspires me, helps me through sadness, and connects me with others. I can trust that it’s always there for me when I need it and that I can find the right song when I need encouragement, empowerment, a way to celebrate, or even a good cry (which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance, according to WebMD).
And that’s just music. Of course I love other things too: my family, my dog, my work, Italian food. What is it that YOU truly love? What do you trust, that feels rewarding to you, that allows your brain to destress and your body to relax? Love is not simply about romantic relationships; it can take so many different possible forms, which are personal to each and every one of us.
The Power of Love
Mr. Rogers once said, “The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing, and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success…They just love what they’re doing and they love it in front of others.”
And before I break out into one of my favorite Huey Lewis songs, from one of the best 80s movies of all time, consider with me how to integrate what you LOVE about your role – in your job, in your family, in a volunteer organization – into what you DO in those roles, and how it could positively impact those around you. For myself, what I love most is being able to make the connections between people and ideas that spark a spirit of learning and, ultimately, help them find success in meeting their goals.
Thinking about what we love most is one of the best ways to inspire us as managers and leaders, as parents, as volunteers…the list goes on. And if we are inspired, we are much more likely to visibly demonstrate our love and inspiration. This can be extremely powerful to witness as an employee, a fellow volunteer, a spouse, partner or child – you name it.
Did you know that studies of mirror neurons reveal that when we witness others’ facial expressions, we actually activate the same for ourselves? And that the strongest emotion within a team can be "caught" such that the rest of the team begins to resonate with that same emotion without anyone consciously realizing it? So, if you’re feeling love inside, it stands to reason that it will also translate into some very positive emotions for those around you. If you think about some of the people in your life who have been most influential, I’m willing to bet those same people stir up very positive feelings too.
Love is All You Need
Ok, maybe not ALL you need. Maslow would likely argue that basic survival needs like food and water come first. However, as it turns out, researchers have since discovered that social needs like connection and love are as basic as our need for food, water and shelter – and that, in fact, our brains treat them the same way.
Sometimes we veer off course, sometimes we get frustrated or doubt our purpose. But if we can focus on those things we truly love, we can center ourselves and find our joy when we feel down, alone, or stressed out (thank you Hallmark holidays) or in otherwise dark times (looking at you, Punxsutawney Phil and your 6 more weeks of winter). Perhaps the Beatles were right after all.
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
All you need is love.