Poets and scientists alike have been musing about love since time immemorial. How many times have people tried to answer the question, “what is love?” Is it divine inspiration, or a chemical reaction in the limbic system? Perhaps the more important question is not “what is love?” but should be, “what do we love?” and, even more importantly, “why?”
Now, two PhD students in the positive psychology program at CGU’s School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation are traveling the planet to ask people those two critical questions.
The world-traveling duo are Angela Mouton, a former environmental lawyer from South Africa, and Monica Montijo, a former Harvard softball champion and teacher from southern Arizona; both are students of SSSPE Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the acknowledged father of positive psychology.
Montijo and Mouton had previously focused their research and study at CGU on the concept of optimum human experience—the very best of human potential, happiness, and love—and how it can be amplified. A cross-cultural partnership themselves, the two not only conduct research together but were married in Maui in October 2012.
Together they wondered if it was love itself that was the driving force behind optimum human experience.
“In our times, the meaning of ‘love’ has shrunk to mean the affection between men and women, and—hopefully—between parents and children. And not much else,” Csikszentmihalyi told them. “But, that is not enough. We forget that there is so much to love in this world.”
“We began to wonder, what do people around the world love, and why?” said Mouton. “How would they describe peak experiences in their lives? Are these experiences about loving other people, pursuing their passions, or being in ‘flow’ (what athletes and artists call ‘being in the zone’)?”
Passion, optimum experience, and flow are well-established areas of research in the world of positive psychology. Yet, there has been a marked dearth of research on how people define and experience love, especially in a cross-cultural context. Montijo and Mouton wanted to take a ‘feet on the ground’ approach, speaking to people face-to-face in their own environments.
So, this past summer, the two embarked on a six-month journey, across six continents, to find out how people the world over define and embody love, passion, and peak experience. And rather than distributing surveys to people primarily in the U.S., the popular method for gathering information about such subjective experiences, the duo is focusing on getting people to tell their stories and describe their loves. The result may be a redefinition of how we understand love and passion as lived experiences rather than just gathered data points displayed on a graph.
Montijo and Mouton recently completed a road trip through 12 U.S. states and spent a month in Europe. This fall, they will be traveling to Morocco, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Asia, Oceania, the Pacific Islands, and Central/South America, among other countries.
The ultimate goal of the project is threefold: the duo plans
to create a scholarly book in which the data will be analyzed, a supporting documentary, and a comprehensive book of photographs. All three parts of the project will be entitled North of Normal, referencing human experience that surpasses the mundane.
For more information, visit www.waddayalove.com.