Love Hate

If it came down to a life or death situation, I would probably cave in and eat garlic. But when I’m not pressed with that kind of life-threatening situation, my general response to garlicky invites is: “No thanks, I hate it.” But do I really hate it? I mean, it’s a mostly harmless plant, after all. (Even if it bears a most repugnant aroma.)

It’s not uncommon in our culture to use the “H” word frequently. We use it to describe our distaste for all things, from food to art and music—and most definitely politics. The line between love and hate, as most of already know, is dangerously thin. Rarely do we feel such compelling emotions for the mediocre. Surely in our mind’s cavernous sorting system, the doors for love and hate are adjoining. And while these emotions share an incredibly important common denominator—intense passion—they drive us to do vastly different things. But with that line between the two so thin, is it possible to turn hate into love? Here are a few reasons worthy of giving it a try and some tips on how to do it:

1. Less hate is healthier

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” And he was right on from a health perspective, too. Studies have found being nicer can reduce stress while hate often exacerbates it. Stress is believed to be a huge factor in the development of illnesses ranging from insomnia and digestive disorders to cancer.  And decreasing hate supports healthier mental states as well. Healthier bodies and minds make us ripe for healthier relationships, too, which can be rewarding on spiritual and physical levels as well.

2. Less hate could mean a longer life

Author David R. Hamilton, PhD says the brain’s production of oxytocin (which happens through emotionally satisfying interactions) can also help to reduce the levels of free radicals and inflammation, which can help to slow aging. He also cites a connection between compassion and the vagus nerve, which controls inflammation in the body. A study conducted on Tibetan Buddhists found kindness and compassion reduced inflammation.

3. Love and kindness make us feel good

When we turn our hatred into love—or at least, kindness—our brain releases chemicals including dopamine, which can improve our mood. According to Hamilton, “On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

4. Kinder people are more successful

David Brooks wrote for the New York Times that people who are genuinely kind and compassionate are usually the most successful: “In pursuing our self-interested goals, we often have an incentive to repay kindness with kindness, so others will do us favors when we’re in need.” And a study published in Psychology Today found children who performed acts of kindness “gained an average of 1.5 friends during the four-week period—good support for the idea that “nice guys finish first.”

5. Creativity and kindness go hand-in-hand

While maudlin and depressed may be the more common way we think of great poets, authors, musicians and artists, new research has found a connection between art and kindness. Research conducted by the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Kent, found that there is potential for the arts to “be at the heart of strengthening our capacity for empathy, friendship, social bonds and concern for others, including future generations.”

Turning anger into loving kindness can seem easier said than done. But you can try some of these tips to help you transform hate into love:

1. Be in service

When we help others, we think less about ourselves and those things that frustrate us. And helping others makes us feel better, too.

2. Meditate

Gaining some quiet time for self-reflection can help to shed light on reasons we may be full of hatred and show ways to transmute it. Even just a few minutes a day can help.

3. Think of something (or someone) you love

It’s believed that hate and love can’t co-exist in your mind, so when you’re feeling hatred, try thinking about who or what you love, like a family member, a pet, music, a special place…

4. Be present

Often, our hatred happens when we’re in “unconscious” mode. We’re letting triggers or memories from the past affect our current actions. By staying in the present moment and observing our feelings, we’re more capable of dealing with them properly.

5. Do you really hate it?

Like being unconscious to our actions, a lot of our hatred of things can actually be based on an experience we had a long, long time ago. Maybe it’s time to check in and see if you really do hate something as much as you think. I routinely “try” garlic just to be sure I still hate it (and I most definitely do not like it).

6. Find the love in the hate

It’s a thin line between the two, right? And as it’s often the case in marriages or relationships, we can both love someone and find them extremely irritating at the same time. Can you love the fact that you hate someone or something? Does that change the experience at all?

7. Receive more love

Sometimes our hatred can stem from our own lack of being loved. Spend more time with people who love you or volunteer at an animal shelter or sanctuary where animals easily give you lots of love, and see if that changes your perspective.

8. Evaluate your diet

What we eat profoundly affects every part of our being. Food sensitivities and allergies can certainly impact our moods. So can foods high in processed sugars and flours, as well as caffeine.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: David Boyle