It’s February, and depending on your level of cynicism, love is in the air or being extracted from your wallet. This is the month when love is celebrated and upon which it is capitalized commercially, and in our culture, we tend to get either squishy or grumpy about the demand in February to tangibly prove our love to those we love. You’ll find that in this edition of Athens Now the theme throughout is love, from love for the city, love for chocolate and history, love in food, properly loving the muscle that pumps blood throughout your body, and on it goes. Why are humans so obsessed with love? We literally can’t help it; we were hard-wired for it by our Creator. How do we know that’s true? Faith and science. Now, here in the region of the Rocket City I am sure there are people of letters that pooh pooh the idea that faith and science can peacefully co-exist, let alone corroborate each others’ findings, and I am not here to debate them. To me it takes way more faith to believe in scientism than it does to believe in creation or intelligent design, but that’s a topic for another day. What is now being able to be seen in our brains and our hearts is that the only way we function well is on love. It was first discovered in 1998 by Dr. P. Eriksson that our brains are made to change for the better, and the term neuroplasticity was formed to describe the process. Prior to that, it was believed that we were born with a certain number of brain cells, and our personalities were basically set by the age of seven. It’s simply not true, and even the most cynical of scientists know it, they just don’t always know what to do with the implications. It is now possible to literally see the difference between a brain bathed in the chemicals of love and forgiveness, and a brain made brittle by bitterness. The latter looks like a forest of burned trees. We now know that we have a heart brain, that literally the heart and brain are linked together in function and purpose. We also know that “going by your gut” is not just something that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs does each Tuesday night on NCIS, it’s a function of your brain that is not to be dismissed. The brain registers social rejection in the exact way that it registers physical pain, and by contrast, love has a powerful impact on our total health. Dr. Amy Banks, MD, an instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said the following: “…Being pushed out of social relationships and into isolation has health ramifications. In fact, there was a book done by health advocate Dr. Dean Ornish, called Love and Survival. There has been study after study done on the positive impact of loving relationships. What he had said at the time in that book was that if we had a drug that did for our health what love does, it would far outsell anything that has ever been made. The efficacy is that potent.” Dr. Caroline Leaf, Ph.D, neuroscientist and author of numerous books on the topic, including Who Switched Off My Brain? puts it this way: “Our choices—the natural consequences of our thoughts and imagination—get “under the skin” of our DNA and can turn certain genes on and off, changing the structure of the neurons in our brains. So our thoughts, imagination, and choices can change the structure and function of our brains on every level:” Literally, love makes good sense, and not just in February, so let’s get after choosing to grow new hearts and brains all year long. We’ll all be better for it.

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