Do you recall the last time you stood in awe of something? Was it a beautiful scene in nature or a look into the eyes of a newborn baby? Perhaps you were lost in a song or held captive by a colorful painting? For that moment, everything was right in the world. You took a few deep breaths, let go of life’s worries, and felt connected to something greater.
According to research from the University of California at Berkeley, frequently experiencing moments like these can improve overall health and increase life expectancy. The study published in the journal Emotion measured how positive feelings such as amusement, awe, wonder, joy, contentment, and pride alter cytokine levels.
Cytokines are small proteins that trigger the immune system’s inflammatory response when infection, trauma, or disease is present. Chronically elevated cytokine levels are associated with poor health, disrupted sleep patterns, autoimmune disorders, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, hormone imbalance, type 2 diabetes, depression, and chronic disease.
Results revealed that positive emotions, particularly those associated with experiences in nature, art, and spirituality lower cytokine levels, thus decreasing inflammation. According to Jennifer Stellar, co-author of the study, cytokine reducing experiences were closely associated with “curiosity and a desire to explore.” It’s also likely that the relationship between cytokine levels and positive emotion is bidirectional as people with higher cytokine levels tend to withdrawal from their environments.
These findings further support the viable healing power of spiritual practices, meditation, yoga and nature, music, art, or color therapies. These kinds of practices are often pushed to the back burner in Western medicine and the standard American lifestyle, but should be brought to the forefront in prevention along with clean eating and exercise.
Want better health? Consider integrating more experiences with nature, art, and spirituality into your daily life. “Rather than seeing a walk through the park or a trip to the museum as an indulgence, we hope people will view these kinds of experiences as important ways to promote a healthy body in addition to a healthy mind. Folding these kinds of positive experiences into your daily routine may be more important for health than we previously realized,” Stellar commented.
Sources for this article:
Awe and Wonder Prime Physical Health. (2016, June). Natural Awakenings, 18.