Mind & Body

A Study Found the Top 5 Things That Make People Feel Loved

Love is addictive. Love is an 11-factor Rubiks cube. Love is a mystery that really bugs the band Foreigner. We can come up with descriptions of love all day, but ultimately, love is a verb. What are the best ways to make your loved ones feel loved? Science may have an answer.

Related Video: The Science of Love at First Sight

Introducing ... the Love Survey!

In a recent study, researchers tackled this question using "cultural consensus theory," which basically means they asked people not about what makes them feel loved personally, but about what makes most people feel loved. The assumption behind this is that there's a cultural definition of love, communicated to us through romantic comedies, Vows columns, and the like. Even if we don't all want it for ourselves, everyone instinctively understands it.

For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 500 people using a 60-item survey. Each item was a sentence that began with "Most people feel loved when ...," followed by a scenario. Some scenarios were romantic and/or sexual ("Most people feel loved when they make love"), while others represented a more platonic or fleeting situation ("Most people feel loved when they feel accepted," or "Most people feel loved when they get a compliment from a stranger.") Respondents rated each statement true or false.

Then the researchers crunched the numbers.

True Love Is Friendly?

According to their data, the top five things that made people feel loved were (drumroll, please):

5. Feeling close to nature.

4. Someone telling them "I love you."

3. Their pets being happy to see them.

2. A child snuggling up to them.

1. Someone showing compassion toward them in a difficult time.

Somewhat surprisingly, physical and romantic affection doesn't crack the top five. It's not that sex and holding hands make people feel unloved, exactly; it's just that the consensus on sex is a shade less robust than the consensus on, well, pets. Researchers concluded from this that our cultural definition of "love" is more about familial and platonic love than it's about, you know, doin' it.

Meanwhile, they found that the interpersonal behaviors that made people feel the least loved were:

5. Someone insisting on spending all of their time with them.

4. Someone trying to change their behavior to be healthier.

3. Someone being possessive of them.

2. Someone telling them what is best for them.

1. Someone else wanting to know where they are at all times.

Researchers hypothesized that these behaviors were viewed as controlling. Which makes sense — most of these behaviors are cited as red flags indicating an abusive relationship. It's worth noting, though, that they were not viewed as equally unpleasant: A hefty majority of respondents said items 1 and 2 didn't make people feel loved, while people were more split on 4 and 5. Close to half of the respondents said those behaviors would make most people feel loved.

Disliking the behaviors above, researchers noted, could be a specifically American phenomenon. In less individualistic countries, for instance, people may view these behaviors as more normal. Here, though, individual freedom is a core national value, and people are more likely to feel alarmed than loved by a person who wants constant updates on their whereabouts.

Of course, just as there is no universal way to make people feel supported, there's no single way to make a person feel loved (or even just at ease). If you don't know what makes someone in your life feel loved, there's an easy way to find out: ask!

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For ways to show your love, there's no book better than Gary Chapman's #1 New York Times bestseller "The 5 Love Languages." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice February 11, 2019

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