Three Risky Ways to Fall Deeply in Love

Love comes from action, not waiting to be adored.

Love On The Rocks

Photo by James Marvin Phelps

Love feels magical and biological—something that just happens to us, something beyond our control. Research shows, however, that love is better thought of as behavioral—or even transactional. Yes, hormones play a role, but much more important is how we act with with the object of our affection. We do certain things, and those actions foster the emotions we associate with being in love. According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, we create our feelings of love, day after day. Or we don’t create them, and love fades.

So what actions lead to love? Here are three in honor of Valentine’s Day, all based on fostering vulnerability. Before you run for the woods, hear me out. Yes, vulnerability can be uncomfortable because it involves, by definition, emotional exposure, uncertainty, and risk. But vulnerability allows trust and intimacy to develop and deepen, creating strong feelings of connection and love.

Action #1: Take a risk together.

Researchers think we tend to unconsciously conflate the high-arousal induced by doing something risky with the high-arousal of intense attraction—the two states feel similar. This creates a similar biochemistry and physiology as when we are first falling in love.

This Valentine’s Day, go straight for that adrenaline rush by doing something risky. Venture to an unknown place that feels a little daunting. Visit a karaoke bar, and actually sing. Try a new sport, one where you risk feeling silly or uncoordinated.

Action #2: Get naked…emotionally.

What can you reveal to your partner that he or she doesn’t already know about you? Ask your date intimate questions to which you aren’t sure you know the answer. We come to like people more when we engage in escalating, gradual back-and-forth “personal self-disclosure.”

Researchers have long been able to create profound feelings of being in love through self-disclosure (even between strangers!). Check out the 36 questions that Arthur Aron and his colleagues used to do this in the lab. And don’t forget: How you respond when your partner is making him or herself vulnerable is also important. (Hint: turn off your phone and pay attention.)

Action #3: Gaze into each other’s eyes.

Directly, for four full minutes. Set a timer. Don’t talk. Breathe. Relax.

This technique has been widely cited as a part of the experiment by Arthur Aron and pals—though I haven’t been able to find reference to it in a published study. Still, this seems like a very solid tactic for creating feelings of intimacy and love.

Stanford researcher Fred Luskin has people do this in his workshops, and it definitely creates big feelings of vulnerability. (Which is good, remember. The exposure is terrifying, but that is what we are after here.)

Take Action: Choose one or more of the three actions above to do with your Valentine and then make a plan for making it happen.

Join the Discussion: What other ideas do you have for making yourself vulnerable with your date on Valentine’s Day? Leave a comment and be entered to WIN Linda Carroll’s Love Cycles, my favorite relationship book.

Six Weeks of Date Night Questions

Photo by Miroslav Petrasko

Below are the 36 questions that researcher Arthur Aron and his colleagues used in the lab to create profound feelings of being in love. The questions lead us to like each other more by engaging us in gradually escalating back-and-forth “personal self-disclosure.”

The original list had three parts, each part upping the vulnerability quotient. These questions are so good I didn’t want to use them all up in a single date-night, so I split them up, using two questions from each of Aron’s three different sections.

Don’t forget: How you respond when your partner is answering these questions is important. (Hint: turn your phone off and pay attention.)

Date Night 1

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  4. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  5. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
  6. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

Date Night 2

  1. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  2. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  3. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  4. What do you value most in a friendship?
  5. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  6. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

Date Night 3

  1. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  2. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  3. What is your most treasured memory?
  4. What is your most terrible memory?
  5. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  6. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Date Night 4

  1. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  2. Name three things you and your partner [appear to] have in common.
  3. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  4. What does friendship mean to you?
  5. Tell your partner something that you like about them.
  6. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

Date Night 5

  1. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  2. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  3. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  4. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  5. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  6. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

Date Night 6

  1. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  2. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  3. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  4. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  5. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  6. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

All of Me

Thursday Thought

ThursdayThoughtsSquare “Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life.”

- Isaac Singer

7 Ways to Feel Loved and Connected


Photo by xxFr0z3n

Celebrate other people’s success. The people we love feel closer to us when we actively rejoice with them. When they succeed, whoop and holler like a cheerleader, bring them cupcakes, or pop open a bottle of champagne.

Consciously practice gratitude. Everyday, express appreciation to a friend or family member.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability can be uncomfortable, but it allows trust and intimacy to develop.

Accept that people are often annoying. Love them anyway.

Learn how to apologize effectively. We all make mistakes; the trick is knowing how to repair them.

Forgive people. Forgiveness is not about erasing the original hurt; it is about choosing positive emotions over negative ones.

Stop thinking about yourself so much. Turn your attention to the things that you can do to make other people happy.


Download the printable list here!

If you like this printable list, I bet you’ll love my Thursday Thoughts. Get them via email here.

May you be happy,

Christine Carter, PhD

Thursday Thought


“Busyness is not a sign of success, significance or importance. It’s a sign that we are not fulfilling our potential.” — Christine Carter in the Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

How to Find Your Sweet Spot

Jill Suttie sat down with me recently to talk about my new book


In 2009, Christine Carter felt like she had it all. On top of her dream job here at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, she had two wonderful kids, a best-selling book called Raising Happiness, a popular blog, and frequent requests for speaking engagements.

Then she got sick. At first, it seemed like no big deal—just a little strep throat. She took a round of antibiotics, but didn’t recover; then she took more. Nine courses of antibiotics later, she still hadn’t healed. Instead, she ended up in the hospital with a severe kidney infection. The diagnosis?

“Exhaustion,” says Carter.  “My body had basically lost the ability to heal itself.”

That’s when she realized something was really wrong. Her life had become completely out of whack, and it was taking its toll.

“Here I was, an expert on how to sustain high performance and be happy, and I could not get myself healthy, because I was overwhelmed and exhausted,” she says. “The irony was not lost on me.”

Carter began to chart a new course. Drawing on her background studying productivity, positive emotions, and well-being, she put together a plan to reinvent her life. That process, as well as correspondences from her readers who also felt overwhelmed by the pace of their lives, inspired her to write a book about her path to healing: The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work which is being published this week by Ballantine Books.

Carter will be talking about The Sweet Spot tonight, January 21st, at 7:30 PM at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, in an event co-sponsored by Berkeley Arts & Letters and the Greater Good Science Center.

We sat down to discuss her book—and the science behind finding one’s sweet spot.

Jill Suttie: What exactly is the sweet spot?

Christine Carter: Most people think of the sweet spot as a point of maximum impact in sports—the point on a bat or racket that hits a ball with its greatest power, and with the least stress or resistance. So, as it applies to our lives, the sweet spot is the overlap between where we have the most ease in our lives and the place where we have our greatest strength.

Think of it as a Venn diagram, with a “strengths circle” and an “ease circle.” I tend to operate from my strengths circle: I’m a high achiever, I get a lot of hits. But, before I changed my life, I couldn’t get those hits without operating outside of my ease circle.

It’s pretty common for people to favor one side or the other. The trick is learning where your overlap is, and expanding that area of overlap.

JS: Your book is coming out just after the New Year, when many of us are thinking about forming better habits, using willpower and determination. But your book says that willpower isn’t the best way to create healthier habits. Why is that?

CC: The activities that we consciously control in our day-to-day lives are few and far between relative to everything that we do unconsciously, on autopilot. Our brain’s ability to train itself to do things without willpower, without self-control, without any sort of conscious control is one of our greatest advantages. Being able to do something with no effort or resistance, completely automatically—that’s the definition of ease.

One of the ways I grew the ease part of my life is that I put a lot of my life on autopilot, so I wouldn’t use up my limited supply of willpower on things I could do automatically. The things that take self-control or willpower, for the most part, involve decision-making, and we don’t want our willpower muscles to become fatigued by every day decisions when they could be automated. We don’t’ really need to spend a lot of time deciding whether or not we’re going to exercise in the morning, or what to eat or what to wear. A lot of people spend time making decisions in the morning that, in my opinion, could be automated.

JS: But don’t you find people resist routines?

CC: It depends. Some people are high in novelty seeking, and they find it hard to get into routines, so they resist. And to them, I’d say: It’s not as hard as you think.

My husband and I are novelty seeking—we really love change. For me it’s important to automate mundane things in your life as a way to free up attention for new things, new endeavors. It’s not that I have less novelty or change now that so much is automated. It’s that I can seek change and growth in more important realms.

JS: In your book, when writing about the balance of mastery and ease, you start with the ease side of the equation—the importance of relaxation and taking breaks. Why start there?

CC: Because stress is pretty epidemic in North America and in the West. Most people don’t understand the benefits of ease, and they need to.

We have a whole cultural mantra around busyness—How are you? Oh, I’m really busy. By that I mean: I’m busy and important. I’ve got so much going on. Busyness is seen as a sign of success, and the marker of character and importance. If you’re not busy and stressed and overwhelmed, then the reverse might be true: You might not be important or very significant; you might be lazy and of low character. This is the big cultural thing we’re up against.

Researchers call busyness “cognitive overload.” The state of cognitive overload makes us worse at everything. It hinders our ability to organize ourselves, to plan, to think clearly, to be creative, to innovate. It makes us irritable. It impairs our verbal fluency, and our ability to remember social information. And it hinders our ability to control our emotions.

So it makes us worse at everything. When somebody tells me they’re busy, what I hear is, this is someone who is not fulfilling their potential. They’re not able to do the best work in this world that they can, or enjoy the work that they are doing or the life that they are leading.

JS: Speaking of busyness, it seems like we have become so enslaved to technology. How can we find more balance in our lives around technology use?

CC: I think it’s really important not to demonize technology, but to realize that something can happen in our brain with it: It provides what’s called “variable ratio reinforcement”—it’s like a slot machine. If you have your email open, and you see that you have a new message, your attention is drawn away from what you’re doing, because every so often the email is rewarding you in some way.

Also, we have a dual attention mechanism in our brains—like a seesaw—so we can either be focused on a task, getting things done, or our minds can wander and be unfocused. It can’t do both of those things at the same time. That’s why we get so stressed and overwhelmed with technology: because we’re constantly pulled between those two states. And that’s why it’s super important to close down your email, turn off alerts, and put your cell phone on sleep mode while you’re working on something else.

The other important thing is not to push yourself too far with technology. We turn ourselves into zombies if we have just been sitting in front of a screen all day. In order to do our best, most enjoyable work, we need to engage our mind-wandering mode from time to time. When our mind is wandering—when we’re staring into space or going for a walk in nature or doing anything but focusing on a task—there’s a neural network that’s constantly making connections, which can lead us to our greatest insights. Unfortunately, it’s the focusing part of our brain that often gets all of the credit for our work.

JS: One thing I appreciated in your book is how you included “ridiculously small” steps people could take to make real change. What ridiculously small step made a big difference in your life?

CC: The example I give in the book is still true for me: my better-than-nothing workout. Every morning, I do a one-minute plank, 20 push-ups, and 25 squats. Doing two years of just that, you should see—I have Michelle Obama arms! It only takes me three minutes. Three minutes, every morning.

Does that mean that I don’t do any other exercise? No, I get a lot of other exercise too, but not consistently. This better-than-nothing routine is what has made a huge difference in my overall health.

JS: The book is geared toward individuals changing their own lives. But, do you feel the book has a message for society at large?

CC: Many of the reasons we feel so overwhelmed and busy and don’t operate in our sweet spot come from social structures that aren’t working for us and from really big cultural lies—for instance, that busyness is a marker of importance, that more is almost always better.

I’m getting asked a lot now to come and talk at corporations to their administrative teams and big HR departments, and it’s thrilling to me to be able to expose them to these ideas. They may say they want to work smarter, not harder—but they don’t know what working smarter is!

At their companies, working smarter currently means working long hours. But if we examine what is really smarter—and how they can change their work culture—it will do a lot to undo those unhealthy and unproductive behaviors in their employees.

Jill Suttie writes about the science of wellbeing, and she is the book review editor for Greater Good, the online publication of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She is also a singer songwriter, and has recorded two CD of her original songs, both available at

Fail at Your New Year’s Resolution

Photo by Avern

This week is an important one for people who made New Year’s resolutions (I hope that’s you)! If you can keep your resolution for the rest of the week, you’ll be much more likely to end the year having kept it, too.

When starting a new habit, it can be frustrating to fail. But failing is also essential to the process of creating a habit that sticks. Unless you are some sort of superhero, you will not be able to get into a new habit perfectly the first time. You’ll trip and fall and royally screw up. And then you’ll have the opportunity to learn something from your failure that you probably couldn’t have learned any other way.

Faltering is a normal part of the process. It doesn’t matter if you have a lapse, or even a relapse, but it matters how you respond. If you’ve had a slip, don’t get too emotional or succumb to self-criticism.

Take Action:  If you’ve started faltering with your resolution, the first thing to do is forgive yourself. Remember: lapses are a part of the process, and feeling guilty or bad about your behavior will not increase your future success. Make a plan for the next time you face a challenge similar to the one that caused your lapse. What will you do differently? What have you learned? What temptation did you face that you can remove? Is there something that you need to tweak? Were you stressed or tired or hungry — and if so, how can you prevent that the next time?

Join The Discussion: Tell us about your lapses in the comments. Be sure to ALSO tell us how you’ve gotten back on track.

Need more structure? If you want more support in making a change like this one, please sign up for my free online class. You’ll get a worksheet and an email everyday for 21 days that will give you more help establishing good habits like this one.


The Sweet Spot Manifesto (Video)

In honor of book launch week (yay!), check out this video my publisher put together for my Sweet Spot manifesto. Get a beautiful printable version here.

Thursday Thought


“In our materially rich but spiritually bereft culture, we often forget that how much we enjoy our lives really matters.” — Christine Carter,  The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work