Just What The Doctor Ordered—Awe, Wonder, and Beauty
Do you have enough awe, wonder, and beauty in your life? If not, you might want to seek out these ineffable qualities and make them a routine part of your life. It may sound like common sense, that beauty makes us feel better; that awe makes our pains melt away; that wonder crowds out depression, and squeezes out discomfort. But serious researchers published an article recently, in the psychological journal, Emotion, which investigated the link between positive emotions and excellent health.
Surprisingly, there has been plenty of research detailing the associations among negative emotions and poor health, but few scientists have bothered to examine the opposite effect: the influence of positive emotions on health. It’s well established, for instance, that “negative emotions are reliably associated with poorer health,” but researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, wondered if positive emotions might also affect physical health.
To keep things objective, the researchers looked at levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body. Cytokines are proteins employed by the immune system to recruit other immune system components to the site of infection or trauma, where they help fight infection and undertake necessary repairs. But sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health. They’re implicated in disorders like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and clinical depression.
Long story short? When people reported having encountered great beauty—or having experienced religious awe or wonder, or having experienced positive emotions such as love, joy, pride or compassion—they invariably had lower levels of cytokines circulating in their bloodstreams. Subjects who had experienced awe, wonder, or amazement, in particular, had the lowest level of a particular cytokine, called IL-6.
“That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions—a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art—[have] a direct influence upon health and life expectancy," said UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, a co-author of the study.
So there you have it. This doctor orders you to experience joy, wonder, awe, and beauty on a daily basis, for a longer, happier, healthier life!
Jennifer E. Stellar, Neha John-Henderson, Craig L. Anderson, Amie M. Gordon, Galen D. McNeil, Dacher Keltner. Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation: Discrete Positive Emotions Predict Lower Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines.. Emotion, 2015; DOI: 10.1037/emo0000033