Are our cities making us unhealthy in ways we never expected?


As the world becomes more urbanised, and more people live in apartments without any connection to the awe-inspiring power of nature, there is some science that shows this shift could have ramifications that we didn’t expect. In fact, some of the leading researchers in this field believe that depriving people of awe is directly tied to the broader societal shift that is making us more individualistic, materialistic and less connected to others. They say we need to actively seek out awe-inspiring moments in our lives and they have evidence to back that theory up.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley wanted to see if positive emotions could have a positive effect on your immune system. In exchange for credit in a psychology class, they had 200 students fill out questionnaires about their emotional tendencies and provide saliva samples. They found that those who reported more positive emotions had the lowest levels of inflammatory markers. The interesting thing is that while positive emotions were collectively associated with lower levels of inflammation, the more that the students reported having experienced awe, wonder and amazement on the day their saliva was taken, the lower their levels of inflammation were.

Another group of researchers looked at this problem by inducing feelings of awe by getting subjects to look at a grove of Trees planted on the campus at the University of California Berkley for one minute. It’s interesting that the test subjects who looked at the massive trees not only reported feeling more awe, they were also more willing to help someone who ‘accidentally’ dropped a packet of pens nearby.

I took a trip down the Hawkesbury river near where I live and while it was hardly conclusive science, I tried the experiment on myself and it definitely changed both my mood and feelings for the day. Although it did get me wondering how much of this is due to the awe and inspiration and how much is to do with the science showing health benefits of meditation and taking the time to breathe properly. That relationship is something I’m yet to find conclusive studies about.

This sort of science makes me look at lists of micro-adventures, like this one, and wonder if everyone should have a list like this on their fridge to start ticking off.