Journal

How Positive Emotions Really Affect Your Health

Published on June 7, 2016

Article by Terence Loose for Bodhi Tree

A balanced diet, regular exercise and ample rest have long been hallmarks of good health. But according to a new study, you can add awe-inspiring sights like the Taj Mahal, the Pacific Ocean or even a long walk in the woods to the list.

Research done at UC Berkeley and published in the journal Emotion has linked positive emotions—especially the awe felt when encountering the beauty of nature, art and spirituality—with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. While useful in the short-term for fighting illness, chronically inflated pro-inflammatory cytokines have been associated with a variety of illnesses, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and clinical depression.

Awe-some Ways to Reduce Stress

Slowing down and experiencing the splendor of nature, art or spirituality can help, says Jennifer Steller, PhD, the lead author of the study. “We have some reason to believe that awe may be particularly good at reducing stress by helping individuals move away from thinking about their own problems and instead seeing the bigger picture,” she tells Bodhi Tree.

Steller adds that awe is a great emotion for promoting humility and social connection with others. “People often report feeling interconnected when they experience awe, and social connection is incredibly important for health,” Steller says.

The Berkeley study included two separate experiments in which more than 200 young adults reported the extent to which they experienced positive emotions such as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. The same day, samples of gum and cheek tissue were taken and showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions had the lowest levels of cytokine, a marker of inflammation.

Nature’s Healing Powers

That isn’t surprising to clinical psychologist Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, author of Change Your Story, Change Your Life. He says that indigenous healers have long held that certain places in nature have especialAwe-Inspiring Medicinely strong healing powers.
“When we sit quietly at the edge of an ocean, or hike through a wildflower-strewn meadow, or stroll through a cool, dark forest, we quickly become aware of our unity with the natural world. We fall back into natural rhythms that we have become out of sync with because we live according to clocks and spend much of our time in man-made spaces lit by electricity,” he says. Nature has a way of recalibrating us, he says.

“People should not feel guilty about building awe-inducing experiences into their daily lives,” Steller says. “Go for a walk in nature, go to the museum, find what it is that inspires awe in you and do more of that.”

Published on: June 7, 2016

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