We seek to increase public awareness of the growing dialogue on Unlimited Love that is taking place at the interface of (1) new scientific investigations (e.g., in the health sciences, psychology, sociology, neuroscience, physics, and mathematics); (2) insights of the world’s great philosophical, spiritual and theological traditions; and (3) inspiring works of love by exemplars across the world.
The Institute’s Goals
The Institute’s first goal is to greatly increase awareness of the emotional and health benefits of love, both for those who give it and receive it, through innovative scientific investigations in lively dialogue with the many spiritual and moral traditions that at their best converge on this universal law of life—our individual flourishing is inextricably connected with our contributing to the lives of others. This law is the focus of our first best-selling book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving (Random House’s Broadway Books, 2007), which brought together uplifting stories, leading edge science, perennial wisdom, and a self-assessment scale. Why Good Things Happen was translated into a dozen languages and continues to be read and discussed around the world.
Our second goal is to encourage all cultures and spiritual traditions to abide in this universal law centered on our shared humanity—and not just on some fragment thereof. As a medical school professor for 25 years, it is clear to me as it is to everyone that love can help prevent or heal a great deal of the mental and physical illness across the globe, and correct so many social problems.
The Scientific Approach Leads to Concrete Results
Many people inaccurately think of love as something that cannot be defined, something so “soft” or personal that it defies description. Not true. The Institute studies the ways in which love shapes human health, development, motivations and actions. When we consider the daunting challenges faced globally due to increased social fragmentation and the spread of fear-based human behaviors, there is an immense need to thoroughly understand love as the root of human flourishing. The Institute seeks this point of convergence—where evolution, religions, neurology, social science, biomedicine, spirituality and human development become a gateway to the moral vision of a shared humanity.
With initial funding from the John Templeton Foundation (2001-2005), the Institute moved quickly beginning in 2001 to provide support for the study of the six questions above—and ones like them—at more than 50 research universities across the United States from Stanford to Harvard, from Chicago to Princeton. Based on significant results the dialogue on Unlimited Love at the interface of science and spiritual thought has grown dramatically and achieved recognition with significant events not just in the United States, but in England, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Canada.
Our Definition of Unlimited Love
When the happiness, security, and well-being of another feels as meaningful and real to us as our own, or perhaps more so, we love that person. Unlimited Love includes but extends beyond our nearest and dearest to all humanity based on our shared dignity and interdependence with one another and with nature. For those of us who are secular, this ideal can be rationally defended. For those who are spiritually or religiously inclined, Unlimited Love is deemed to be a Creative Presence or Ultimate Reality underlying the universe, the participation in which leads to inner peace and expanded benevolence. Whether we define ourselves as secular, religious, or spiritual, we can generally agree that such love constitutes the greatest imaginable leap forward in human consciousness and behaviour.
How Do We Understand Unlimited Love?
Just as we investigate the force of gravity or the energy of the atom, we can scientifically examine the power of Unlimited Love in human moral and spiritual experience. Even though thousands of books have been written about this love, they have focused on the history of theological and philosophical ideas without considering scientific research. How can we better understand Unlimited Love in a way that brings together evolution, genetics, human development, neurology, social science, and positive psychology with great religious thought and practice, and with the moral vision of a common humanity to which all great spiritual traditions give rise? Without that vision, the future of humankind is increasingly imperiled. Unlimited Love is the necessary point at which the human future must converge.
The development of this field of study is long overdue. Immense and complex questions resonate with all of us: how can we learn to love our neighbor even when he or she can give nothing in return, or is not a member of our in-group? Can we redirect our aggression away from one another and toward a common struggle against disease, starvation, poverty, violence, and other assaults on human well-being? Do people who give generously to others experience higher levels of psychological well-being, are they healthier, and do they live longer lives? Does love heal? Did our species evolve in a way that makes generous and cooperative behavior more true to our nature than egoism and selfishness? What can we discover from the lives of truly unselfish individuals that can help us to teach future generations to live generously? What can we learn about spiritual and moral transformations, both gradual and sudden, in the direction of unlimited love? In the giving of self is there an unsought for discovery of a higher self?