Britta Gustafson: What is love? You tell me |

Britta Gustafson: What is love? You tell me

Love. It’s a many-splendored thing, it’s all you need and sometimes it’s even a battlefield.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, how does one begin to put a finger on the pulse of what keeps us palpitating?

Searching for answers to a force larger than life, how does a once bitten, twice shy divorcée, like myself, even begin to approach the subject? I determined I would have no choice but to explore its depths with wide-open awe and wonder. After all I know love, both unconditional and unrequited. As a mother, I understand it to be all encompassing. I’ve watched my parent’s love grow, testing each of the traditional wedding vows, proving its power and a testament to time with their 50th wedding anniversary on the horizon this year. I hold onto the realization that our own fragile nature on this planet lends itself to an innate need for us to greatly invest ourselves in that which we could easily lose. These connections are what compel us into action, to protect and nurture. I know that my definition of “love” has completely evolved and taken on whole new dimensions at this stage in my life. And those layers of love, the ones we collect over time, inevitably teach us about who we really are in return.

I scoffed at Valentine’s Day, calling it commercial, when my 10-year-old’s response was a shocked, “Why wouldn’t you love a day that reminds us to love?” She’s right. Commercial as it may be, it is part of our cultural experience here and so I set out to embrace its beauty. And really, is there any better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by celebrating what love means to those around us? As Plato put it, “At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.”

So I decided to reach out, calling on friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and my community, from kids to professionals to couples, who have long and passionate love stories to share. I simply asked, “What is love?” And here is what you, the people of Snowmass Village, told/taught me:

“Love is the root of everything; love creates, but a lack of love can destroy … therefore love is life.”

“To me love means knowing that someone isn’t perfect and loving their imperfections as well as their strengths.”

“Love is patient, love is kind and is inside us and forgiving, even when we aren’t patient and kind.”

“Love is an act of expression, kindness, giving. It is gentle and not arrogant.”

“Love is undefinable, it’s an innate feeling you can’t seem to find the perfect words to describe.”

“Love has helped me survive the most difficult times. It provides us strength when we are most weak.”

“It’s like a spider’s web that keeps us off the ground, but in which we can also find ourselves tangled at times.”

“Love is universal. There is an overarching Anthropology of love. Evidence of love has been found in 170 societies around the world, and no single society has been found that did not have it.”

“It’s craziness —when you can’t tell the difference between intense pain and intense pleasure.”

“When something exterior takes over your internal narrative”

“Love is that split second when you smile involuntarily.”

“It’s the beginning of everything.”

“Feeling compelled to act from a place of pure altruism, putting all selfishness aside and acting from a place of virtuous kindness.”

“A broken heart, though very real, is a risk worth taking in pursuit of love.”

“Love is making a choice to abandon looking inward, and to look outward to others. It is available to us all, and we can love everything, but that is the test.”

“It’s when reason and rational are no longer in the driver’s seat.”

“Love is a very real function of the brain, in the ventral tegmental area (VTA): a tiny factor near the base of the brain. Activity occurs in the a10 cells which produce dopamine and spray it to many brain regions when you feel love. The VTA is part of the reptilian core of the brain, way below the cognitive thinking process, below emotions, it is part of the brain reward system which is associated with wanting, motivation, focus and craving. It’s activity response is comparable to our compulsions to eat, protect ourselves and survive.”

“Love is when you hold your child for the first time.”

“Love means support, adoration and friendship.”

“Love is a feeling you can only get when you truly, truly care for someone, and that someone doesn’t always have to be family. They could be a close friend or a pet.”

“I love M. Scott Peck’s definition of love … extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. The manifestations of that are endless … it’s been my purpose and my pleasure to live that definition. The connection it creates is bomber solid … and love means everything to me.”

“Love means contentment. The feeling that no matter what, your life has served an enormous purpose.”

“Friendship for a long time if your life.”

“Kissy, Kissy.”

“Friendship and helping others.”

“A tingly feeling in your heart, when you feel very affectionate for someone. The uncontrollable feeling to keep family and friends close forever.”

“Love is peace of mind.”

And sometimes it’s hard to put into words as my 3-year-old niece expressed, responding matter-of-factly to my question by throwing her tiny arms around me and pushing my hand in hers, against my chest.

As I quizzically rooted for answers, I had an unexpected, almost cathartic experience. With a surging renewal in my faith for love, I can honestly say that I felt that dopamine rush, taking a vicarious voyage through the pulsing hearts around our town. Snowmass, you made me laugh and cry, gain perspective and admiration for you, and I fell just a little more deeply in love with my home this week!

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


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