Positive Psychology & Film: Love
"Human beings are starved for love." – Erich Fromm This article is part of a series. Find the first part here.
“Human beings are starved for love.” – Erich Fromm
This article is part of a series. Find the first part here.
What is Love?
In 2014 the number one search phrase on Google was – “What is love?”
Stefan Deutsch, psychotherapist, President of the Human Development Company, believes people are asking Google what love is because they don’t know the answer. To begin to solve the enigma he’s organized The First International Symposium Toward a Unified Science of Love. On June 26 in Manhattan New York, I will be filming the scholars, psychologists, philosophers, researchers, artists, and authors – each with their uniquely different backgrounds and approaches – as they open their hearts and minds to new concepts and try to arrive at a unified theory.
Today we know that one reason loving behaviors feel good is because they help us generate important hormones for wellbeing and healing. This includes oxytocin ‘the love hormone’ and vasopressin. They also generate endorphins that lower our blood pressure and reduce stress. Deutsch believes we need to incorporate this new science into our definition of love, agree on common terminology, and develop the tools that will help people behave more lovingly to self and others and break the cycle of dependency.
“This will be the first step toward establishing a serious science,” Deutsch says. “Once love is defined, we can begin collaborative research in earnest and develop the language and tools that will help every person give and get all the love they need and deserve. We’d never accept having every cardiologist have their own definition of the heart or how it functions. That’s not science!”
But what about film? How do most filmmakers present love?
Research indicates that corporate media (film studios, television networks, songs, and advertisements) predominantly focus on a glorified romantic love. In this type of love romance and physical passion dominate love’s features. Women are most often loved more than men for their physical beauty. Love is portrayed as very exciting and feeling good, but the downsides of romantic love are often not reflected accurately.
In this type of love, passion for one’s partner can be destructively distracting. Certain aspects of women are often put on a “pedestal” creating patriarchal dating scripts and benevolent sexism that ultimately diminish women’s overall status in society. Corporate media’s popular idea of love tells people if their partners really love them or are attracted to them they will respond to them like the fictional partners do in film. It tells people their partners are not as good as the ideals they see at the movies.
Some research shows that real-life relationships and marriages actually end when people detect the film version of passionate, romantic love fading. This phenomena is part of what is called the cultivation theory, which holds that media develops attitudes about the real world and guides people to believe that their own lives should look and feel like the media portrayals.
Contrary to what media most often depicts extensive research indicates that most long-term couples focus on love that has the following top twelve features: trust, care, honesty, friendship, respect, desire to promote the well-being of the other, loyalty, commitment, accepting the other without wanting to change the other, support, desire to be in the other’s company, and consideration of and interest in the other.
The following films exhibit types or aspects of love not portrayed as often in popular media. If you’ve seen these films before it can be interesting to watch them again and pay attention to the issue of love. According to The VIA Institute on Character love is classified under the virtue of Humanity, which describes strengths that manifest in caring relationships with others. Using film to recognize and build character strengths like love can be a new way of identifying and strengthening our capacity to love and be loved.
About Time (2014)
Character Strengths and Virtues: intimate love, familial love, zest, perseverance, gratitude, transcendence, synchronicity
Themes: time travel
Another Year (2010)
Character Strengths and Virtues: humanity, social intelligence, gratitude, love, self-regulation, family teamwork, kindness, honesty
Themes: Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, parenting, alcoholism, positive married relationship
Character Strengths and Virtues: humanity, companionate love
Themes: female bonding and friendship
Character Strengths and Virtues: humanity, love, self-regulation, social intelligence, perseverance, forgiveness, honesty
Themes: intimate love. women from different backgrounds fall in love with each other, divorce, child custody
The Dream Life of Angels (1998)
Character Strengths and Virtues: hope, zest, humanity
Themes: trying to maintaining friendships with psychological opposites
The Kids are All Right (2010)
Character Strengths and Virtues: forgiveness
Themes: positive family relationships
Morvern Callar (2002)
Character Strengths and Virtues: appreciation of nature’s beauty
Themes: being mindful in appreciation of nature contrasted with valuing stimulation, sex, and partying
Character Strengths and Virtues: humanity, companionate love
Themes: positive friendship, illiteracy, aging
Character Strengths and Virtues: optimism, hope, perseverance, resilience, creativity, gratitude, familial love, humor
Themes: mother of 10 supports her family by winning jingle writing contests, problem-solving, coping with financial stress, alcoholism, focusing
on what you have rather than what you don’t have
Run Lola Run (1998)
Character Strengths and Virtues: zest, perseverance, gratitude, transcendence, synchronicity
Themes: the importance that choices make in our lives, faith in one’s relationship
In her book Positivity, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology Barbara Fredrickson wrote, “There is a reason love is called a many-splendored thing. It’s not a single kind of positivity. It’s all of the above, encompassing joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, and awe. What transforms these other forms of positivity into love is their context.”
What do you think love is? What are the negative consequence of our lack of knowledge about what love is? Do you think love can be defined? Do you think films influence how we love and think about love? If they do, what is our responsibility as filmmakers? Or do we have one? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.