One of the wonderful things about the Greek language is the many words it has for love. There is έρωτας, the feeling you have when you are madly and passionately in love, αγάπη, that deeper, more steady feeling when you are bound up in one person, and your life with theirs. Then there are all the ‘phils’, φιλοξένια (literally the love of strangers, but the obligation of hospitality), φιλανθρωπία (the love of people connected with charity, philanthropism), and of course the love of Greeks themselves, philhellenism. These distinctions are helpful in defining what we are actually talking about when we talk about love.
So it was with some interest that I came across an article describing the work of a research group at Aalto University in Finland, who explored how different types of love are experienced in various parts of the body. They surveyed 558 native Finnish speakers and identified twenty-seven distinct types of love, not only for fellow humans, but for non-human entities (animals for example), and abstract ideas (nature, wisdom). As you may imagine, some feelings were stronger than others, and all encompassing, others however were less intense, and felt primarily in certain areas.
It amuses me somewhat that the study was based in Finland because despite their many admirable qualities I had not known the Finns to have particularly passionate natures, except perhaps when drink has been taken. Some of you may remember the ‘scandal’ – if it can be called that – when the then prime minister was videoed ‘partying hard’, dancing and drinking with friends. She was cleared of misconduct – she even took a drug test – and defended her right to have fun in private. Let us call it a love for life.
I would probably trust a politician a bit more if they could let their hair down rather than resorting to other more dangerous vices, and a prime minister with friends who have fun may be a better leader than one who stays in. Despite the moral outrage from certain quarters, I myself could not see that much of a problem. Some people just do not like to see other people having fun, perhaps because they are afraid of it.
Anyway, I digress. I found the study of interest because it tried to identify the areas of the body where different types of love are felt. It did not attempt to identify and define every single type of love that humans experience – there is theatre, poetry, cinema, literature, TV, and Hello! magazine for that. Instead the study aimed to answer three main questions about different types of love:
– Where are different types of love felt in the body?
– How are the feelings associated with different types of love related to emotional valence, bodily and mental experience, and controllability?
– How similar are different types of love in relation to each other, in body and mind?
I will not go too much into the methodology, or the science of it all, but the results show some quite interesting findings. A very important thing to note is that all love is felt in the mind. Romantic love and passionate love, were more predominant in the upper part of the body, from the hips upwards, but also around the chest, but also in the head. Sexual love – needless to say – was felt mostly where the sex stuff happens, but also in the head; I believe that most erotic attraction starts with the mind. True love is felt everywhere (‘I feel it in my fingers, I fell it in my toes) with a strong concentration around the heart – no surprise there – and the mind, but love for life is also widespread around the body, with less of a focus on the heart, but the mind feels it strongly too.
The more abstract notions of love are felt – as you may expect – more in the head. These include love of wisdom, practical love (whatever that means) and love of strangers. Love for one’s neighbours and love for one’s friends are almost identical: evenly divided between head and heart. Love of one’s siblings seems to be more focused on the heart, whereas surprisingly love of beauty and love of one’s country are also evenly divided between head and heart, if less intense overall.
I have always been a great believer in love, in all its many guises, but in the business of shipping – uniquely human in its structure and execution – I have often wondered whether it is really so easy to separate feelings, including physical ones, from the work. This includes love in all it’s manifestations. I am fond of saying that shipping is all about relationships, but I have found myself thinking after reading the article that the emotions we go through in our professional lives are dictated by how personally engaged we are with those around us.
In shipbroking there are feelings of joy and despair, anger and exuberance, excitement and depression, happiness and disappointment, exhilaration and anxiety, at frequent intervals. As I have got older, I have managed to understand that in some situations it is not always wise to act on first instinct, but to let things ride a while until things settle down and the problem can be solved. But that course of action is not always correct, and I will rue the day when I didn’t act immediately according to my instinct because it was proven to be correct. This is almost always in equal measure to those occasions when I did act on instinct and I was proven wrong.
If I say I love my work what do I mean? I know that many people look at me with condescending pity when I express such an opinion, but so bound up am I in it that I have to consider it. Where – which part of the body – do I feel the best when I get satisfaction from my work? Well, like most things in shipping, it depends. When we’re having a good day in the office, I feel more emotionally satisfied and experience a warm feeling around the chest. When I have just navigated a particularly tortuous and complicated negotiation, I get a mental satisfaction. When I have delivered a ship after a difficult and stressful process, I feel exhausted but satisfied, and experience a general bodily comfort. When I have just proved a point to someone else, particularly a crucial one that saves the day, I feel a strong mental boost. Of course, the opposite can be said of bad days, when negotiations fail, when it feels that everyone is against me. It’s a draining of energy, a mental stress, a blow to the body, physically.
To do our work – especially this work – we have to put our body and soul into it. There are areas of the shipping industry, so people tell me at least, where you can do your work methodically and satisfactorily, and then forget about it once you leave the office. Sure, on bad days, I sometimes hanker after this kind of work, but I wonder how long it would be before I got bored, or more to the point, less alive.
But love for one’s work, and the good feelings that come from it should not be ignored. Good feelings can be experienced in the companionship of colleagues – they spend most of their waking life together after all – as well as in closing a deal or completing a project to general satisfaction and praise. Indeed, the successful delivery of a vessel after building a long-term relationship over months if not years has a satisfaction of its own.
One thing that is not mentioned in the paper is love of money. I am not sure what I think about this, because although it is surely non-personal love, it is evident in how some people approach business that love of money is paramount. I wonder where this feeling is bodily expressed? Not having this type of love in my make-up – I like having money, I sure like spending it, but I don’t see it as the point of my life – I can only wonder. In the hands perhaps?
The ancient Greeks – in particular the philosophers – spent a lot of time considering the good life, and what it could mean to live one. Some – perhaps not the best ones to go partying hard with – were prescriptive in their nature, and draconian in their self-discipline. Others – more willing to discuss and make jokes over wine – had a more forgiving view, and viewed the human being as a complex organism, liable to many of the weaknesses we all experience now and then. But they all recognised the differing types of love – romantic, filial, sexual, intellectual – and thought and discussed the matter with seriousness.
In our modern lives there are no less demands on our affection and love, and if we live and work amongst people rather than machines, then it should not be a surprise that the demands of those different types of love and how we experience them bodily should manifest themselves. This is part of who we are, and again, I am not sure I would ever entirely trust someone who said that he or she left their feelings behind them when they went to work. As someone very close to me when I was a young man was fond of saying: “In the end, love – or the lack of it – is of paramount importance. All the rest is packaging.” If we deny ourselves of feelings, or worse try to smother them – in the home or in the workplace – then I fear we are storing up greater trouble for ourselves in the future. And we should also respect and acknowledge other people’s feelings, for without that empathy, without that connection, we cease to become human beings altogether.