With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, the idea of love is in the air. But, particularly in western culture, that love doesn’t necessarily simply apply to a person (or a pet, which we think is an equally good scenario). “I love my Valentine’s Day gift!” “I love my diamond engagement ring!” “I love everything that my partner gives me!” You’ll certainly hear those phrases a lot in the upcoming month. Let’s be honest – you’ll hear them a lot all year long in reference to many things that don’t have anything to do with romance or love at all. “I love my new boots!” “I love my new big screen television.” If you really sat down and counted up the number of times you heard the word “love” applied to “stuff,” you’d be surprised. It may be as often as you touch your face (which is thousands of times per day on average). But it begs the question. Can you ever, really, truly love a thing?
So, Firstly, What Exactly is Love?
Really? We’re going to tackle this topic on the Postconsumers blog? Yes, we are (at least in a cursory way) because you can’t proceed with talking about whether you can love “stuff” or a “thing” or not without setting some basic definitions for what the word love means. We think that we can all agree that it’s probably often misused, so let’s at least hopefully agree to what it means when we use it.
Obviously, if you Google the question “What is love?” you’re going to get millions of results and theories. You’ll also get a video clip to one of the greatest eighties songs of all time. But actually our favorite of the group is this article, which presents the five most common theories on what love is. While we agree in part with all of the theories, we also feel that this one sums up the most accurate and comprehensive definition of love:
“While lust is a temporary passionate sexual desire involving the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen, in true love, or attachment and bonding, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool – a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defense and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.” Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist and science writer
So, with that said, let’s discuss if you can love a thing.
Does Loving a Thing Meet the Definition of Love?
Does your brain release pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin over a pair of shoes? No. Do you feel as though the shoes are going to help you survive long term in a societal structure? No (though they may help you get noticed). Will you still love the shoes in a year, or is your attachment to them more of a short term lust? If you’re being honest, you probably answered lust. It’s probably no surprise to you that we rapidly came to the conclusion in this article that you cannot love a thing. But what may surprise you is that we’re about to explain that we understand why you think that you can love a thing – and how to deal with that emotional displacement.
You Can Assign Emotional or Sentimental Value to a Thing
Before we talk about emotional displacement and societal messaging, which we know is nobody’s favorite topic, we do want to tell you that it’s okay to assign some emotional or sentimental value to some things. Things that your children used, mementos of meaningful times in your life, heirlooms from loved ones, important things you use to live. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having some things that mean something to you – as long as you recognize that it’s not the thing itself that has meaning but rather the memory or function associated with it. The problem begins when you assign these values to all things regardless of their history or the amount of them that you have.
Why Do You Think You Love Things?
We don’t like to use the word blame very often, but in this case we will. We blame this uniquely first-world phenomenon on primarily two things.
The Consumer Media Machine: The consumer media machine has a lot invested in making you think that “stuff” can satisfy emotional needs, fill up holes in your life, make you feel complete and give you value as a person. And you are bombarded by the messages of the consumer media engine all day and all night every day of your life. There’s almost no way to avoid beginning to believe that your emotional and mental well-being is precisely tied to things that you own. Materialism has become a sick religion.
The Societal Ill of Distance: There are so many things in contemporary society that make it difficult for us to make meaningful connections with people. The prevalence of the internet, the breakdown of the family structure (though we’re enjoying watching it build back up in more modern ways), the fragmentation of communities and socio-economic issues. We could go on and on. But the reality simply is that it’s harder to make meaningful emotional connections with each other these days. And so people displace those emotions where the mass media tells you that it makes sense – stuff.
So What Can You Do?
Much like the topic of “What is love?” the topic of how to overcome societal programming that you can love stuff (as well as to become better at making real connections with people) is too great a topic for this blog! However, we do think that starting to browse the entire Postconsumers content archive is a good way to start. The first step to anything that you want to change about yourself is always awareness, and we believe that we have many tools that will help you gain awareness of media manipulation and societal messages that are actually working against helping you to be your happiest and healthiest self.
Did we miss a thought about the definition of love or whether or not you can love things that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.