At the moment you were born, your mom’s brain got a shot of oxytocin and she was likely feeling love towards you as a result. (Thank you oxytocin!)
This week, my sister accomplished what I would argue is the greatest feat known to human existence… (giving birth!) She said exuberantly, “I didn’t know I could feel this way about another human being!” Oxytocin was flying high in her brain at this moment and this surge felt like love. It was designed by Love himself.
Did you know – It’s not strong legs that keep a person standing through life’s instability – it’s strong chemicals! The right chemicals…. It’s all part of God’s divine design. People prosper when they feel loved.
A common church message is … the unimaginable, unconditional love of God can satisfy the soul in the midst of all kinds of circumstances – and that we thrive when we receive and give love. … This is true. But there are brain factors that make it tough for us to experience this … A few years ago – I sat with my Bible open and read the words, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” – Psalm 90:14
Instead of pretending I was experiencing this satisfaction God promises – I honestly admitted – I wasn’t feeling satisfied at all! What did it even mean to be satisfied by love? I remember praying to experience this kind of divine satisfaction.
Simon Senik, human psychology researcher, says that a happiness chemical called oxytocin surges through our brains when we feel secure, safe, like we belong and are valued. Senik calls this the “trust” chemical – and everyone knows it takes time to establish trust! This chemical increases slowly over time in a body and mind that lives and enjoys healthy relationships where deep trust is cultivated. This requires vulnerability – and openness – NOT an easy way to live!
Oxytocin in a body means a resilient life. Most of us have had life-changing moments that define our days and paths. Those moments remind us that we are not in control – we will all face these. This week I heard many tales of people facing uncertain life moments: My sweet sister with a new baby, a brave entrepreneur, the mama of a child with down syndrome, and the audacious adventures of a committed ministry leader. Each one faced the unexpected – dopamine doesn’t sustain satisfaction through struggle. It’s a short term happy feeling producer. Oxytocin, on the other hand, gives strength for the long haul. It builds a foundation that stands firm in family life, business challenges and personal endeavors.
The brain is a tricky grey matter. Dopamine is also a happy chemical, and we get a shot of it when we buy something new, check something off of a “to-do” list or finish a project. Senik calls this the “greedy chemical” in leadership because it is released instantly when we do something for ourselves. This chemical is highly addictive and easily accessible! We don’t have to be vulnerable to experience this one – and we don’t have to wait for it to build up over time. When we get dopamine flowing lavishly, our brain can be tricked to think it has all it needs in the department of “happy chemicals” – and the commitment to build deep, trusting relationships can disappear. When this happens – our deep resiliency disappears too. This is a fast-acting happy chemical!
An experience of unconditional love produces oxytocin – and God’s supply is endless and always available and accessible. People with high levels of oxytocin live longer. They are happier. Their immune systems are strong. When we build a deep, trusting relationship with unconditional love – we have lots of love to give away. We get all the courage and desire we need to love people well, even if we have been hurt.
Senik says organizations thrive when they build a culture of trust – the key for all of us is to: build up oxytocin in the body – and God’s love in the heart. This is lasting satisfaction – and it is connected to the right chemical! When people feel safe, they flourish – it’s part of God’s divine design and it begins the moment we are born.