It’s no secret that our emotions seem to affect our physical health. You may have had an experience in which receiving bad news while you were recovering from illness or injury slowed your progress. And, on the other hand, many of us have found that a thoughtful visit from a friend or anticipating an exciting event when we’re sick has helped us feel better.
Mind-body science continues to delve more deeply into the way emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect physical health. Researchers are looking more closely at the impact of certain emotions on health.
A team of researchers studied the relationship between positive emotions and physical health. They used inflammation in the body—a sign that the body is hurt and trying to heal itself—to assess physical health. To detect inflammation, the team measured levels of proteins (using saliva samples) associated with inflammation among 94 participants in the study. The participants also filled out questionnaires about their recent emotional state, including how often they felt certain positive or negative emotions during the past month.
It turned out that—just as most of us would expect—participants who reported more frequent positive emotions had lower signs of inflammation (a sign of better health) compared with those who reported more negative emotions.
With their link between mood and health established, the research team then looked at the following emotions to see if any was a particular strong driver of good health: awe, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride. Using saliva samples again to measure inflammation markers, the researchers found the participants who experienced awe appeared to be in the best health. And the more often they felt awe, the healthier they appeared.
So next time something brings you awe—a brilliant sunrise, a symphony, your child’s smile—enjoy the feeling even more knowing that it might be making you healthier.
Stellar JE, John-Henderson N, Anderson CL, et al. Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion. 2015 Apr;15(2):129-33.